On the night of April 25th, 1948, we set out to put an end to this shameful and perilous situation.
Throughout the day about one hundred vehicles had been mobilized in the only way available to the underground ever since the beginning of the revolt - by means of temporary confiscation. It was not a pleasant way. But the owners knew from the experience of others that we always did our best to return their vehicles after the operation or, in case, of damage, to pay them compensation. Some vehicles were willingly loaned by supports of the independence of Israel, and some were confiscated from the British.
A conference was in progress. Runners had brought disturbing news from the city. The Haganah, they said, had proclaimed a state of alert and were preparing to prevent us from carrying out the operation.
Begin orders, “You have only one direction - forward.”
Line after line, the men filed out silently to the main road. We entered Tel Aviv at the third night watch. The narrow streets leading to Jaffa were deserted.
We had two three-inch mortars; exactly two. They were British made. We had borrowed them.
We had three gunners on the Jaffa front. Hour after hour, day after day, they went on firing and their wonderful hands knew no rest.
On the third day of the battle we were asked by the Haganah Command to divert our mortars to the Tel-Arish area in order to enable a badly battered Hagfanah unit to withdrew.
Our boys (Irgun) were fresh and buoyant and sang a battle song as they moved up.
And behind the first line, which was of triple or quintuple thickness, there were not only Iraqi and Arab fighters. Behind them stood British troops with tanks and heavy guns, who were positioned to prevent the attackers (Jewish fighters) from reaching the sea.
The medical service - perhaps the most difficult of war services - had its hands full of work, and blood. There, dashing about and scouring the wounded, ran Moshe Atlet, deeply religious, “equipped” with long side-curls, and armed with a revolver. With him “Topsy,” the Yemenite girl who had accompanied the boys in their attack on Lydda airfield. Next to her, Nitzah, of a martyred Hebron family. They and their comrades dashed in and out of the line of fire carrying the stretchers with wounded comrades.
But our men could not break through. We had not broken the neck of the bottle.
The Command decided to suspend direct assault. That night, for the first time in its history, the soldiers of the Irgun “mutinied.” They point blank refused to carry out the order to withdraw.
“We will not abandon the field. Only let us try once more; we promise to beat them this time. We have not weakened . We will beat them right enough.”
There would be no retreat.
With all respect to the books, you do not know the spirit of the Irgun soldiers.
There was another choice - a typical Irgun tactic; break-through and covering parties. An explosion - withdrawal - advance. It would be slow ... but effective.
Their path was hewn out for them by the “living artillery,” the sappers. Between two walls of fire - the enemy fire and the covering fire - the sappers crawled and wriggled and dashed along bringing their explosives up to the enemy positions; they lit the fuse, drew back - and then on forward again.
As though carried along by unseen forces, Rahamin and his comrades went from point to point, from explosion to explosion, and opened the way to victory for their comrades.
Picks and crow bars were the “weapons” used by the boys to make passages through the ruined buildings. Sappers - soldiers - medical personnel - supply line - entrenchment. Chain interlocked with chain.
The chains were not broken. A supreme effort of mind, body, and spirit.
In the afternoon the battle was resumed with greater intensity. Now the sappers went out carrying the shining canister of explosives. We were having to pay for every inch of ground.
Everything cost us blood. The altar of God demanded sacrifices without number. Now we were offering the best of our sons as a Passover-sacrifice in order to ensure that our days should be renewed as of old.
On the morrow we would renew the attack. The camp went to sleep. The earth or floor made a good enough mattress. Our boys had never been pampered. How often had they slept on the heart-breaking stone of prison floors before being privileged to sleep beneath the sky and the stars with their arms by their sides? In truth they were very happy.
As for the battle itself, they entertained not a single doubt. Today had been a failure, but tomorrow would bring victory. Retreat was unthinkable. Abi gezunt!
In the morning the Haganah sent a message to “abort.” We re-read the statement and recognized the threat in its tail ... “The Haganah will not tolerate” ... And our hearts sank at the appalling thought that they actually wanted us to be beaten.
While the underground dreamed dreams of Eretz Israel, and poured its blood as sacrifice for her homeland, the men of the Jewish Agency, and therefore the Haganah, and therefore, subsequently, the Government of Israel, spoke a very different language - the language of everyday politics.
Facing the fighters was the fire of the enemy; behind their backs the denigration by their own people.
Yet not one fighter asked any questions. Their reaction was unanimous; we will fight on and win, in spite of the enemy and in spite of our Jewish ill wishers in the rear.
We clung for two days to our new line and repulsed wave after wave of enemy counter-attacks. Our line never broke.
On the morning of 28 April our boys pressed onward. At nightfall ... beneath our increasing pressure the enemy troops were driven from a number of positions. At last they began to retreat in disorder.
Once again the British forces came to the rescue.
But our pressure, exerted by soldiers who were resolved to win, was very great and the enemy was obliged to draw back. Confusion and terror, deepened by the noise of the battle raging at no great distance from the central streets, reigned in the town. Thus the morale of the enemy was broken, and the great flight began, by sea and land, on wheels and on foot.
It started with thousands, but very quickly tens of thousands were sucked into the panic flood. Jaffa was in utter confusion. Now Jaffa lay before them, defenseless, on her knees. Jaffa would no longer be able to attack Tel Aviv.
On a high tower of the Mosque we hoisted our flag. The whole of Tel Aviv saw it that morning. Tremendous crowds stood and feasted their eyes on the spectacle. For six months that tower had sniped death into the streets of the city - and now at last redemption had come.
* * *
Ben-Gurion and Golda Meyerson, his chef political aide, demanded of the Irgun that it leave Jaffa alone. Jaffa must, they declared, remain Arab in accordance with the United Nations – British plan for the partitioning of Israel.
Reassured by the hands-off strategy of the Jewish Agency, the Egyptian Army had prepared to land by ship in Jaffa, adjoining Tel Aviv, hit Tel Aviv from the rear, and put an end to the Jewish State during its gestation.
Menachem Begin ignored the Agency’s cowardice and ordered and ordered his Commander of Operations, Gideon (Gidi), to take Jaffa. After three days of battle, the Irgun army of less than one thousand men and women stormed the city. Most of the seventy-five thousand Arabs had fled.
Item: Today’s Isreli Government history books teach the children of the land that Jaffa was captured by the Jewish Agency Haganah.
Only Tel Aviv was saved by the Jaffa victory. At midnight of May 15th, 1948, the day Israel announced its independence, the armies of Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Trans-Jordan invaded Palestine. Because of the liberation of Tel Aviv, the Jews were able to repel the first blow.
* * *
THE BATTLE OF JAFFA
(from Shmuel Katz’s memoirs)
In that month of April 1948 the scene in Palestine was transformed.
The Arab monopoly of offensive was broken.
Jewish counter-offensive achieved results of historic significance.
Three days after the fall of Haifa the Irgun, in one of the great operations in its history, changed the face of the struggle, this time with conscious purpose.
It broke across the frontiers of the partition plan.
It eliminated Jaffa as an Arab base, actual and potential and ensured the town’s inclusion in the Jewish State.
The attack on Jaffa would have been delivered much earlier.
FROM THE EARLY DAYS OF THE ARAB ATTACKS TEL AVIV HAD BEEN SUBJECTED TO A DAILY BARRAGE OF SNIPING WHICH TOOK A STEADY TOLL IN DEAD AND MAIMED.
*The whole of the centre of the city was a target.
Bullets whistled across Allenby Road and other main streets from a dozen directions.
*The border zone had been largely evacuated of its Jewish inhabitants who took refuge in northern Tel Aviv and in Ramat Gan.
THE IRGUN HIGH COMMAND HAD EARLY ON CONCLUDED THAT THE IMMEDIATE HARASSMENTS FROM JAFFA, ANNOYING AND SERIOUS AS THEY WERE, WERE BUT A PRELUDE TO THE EMPLOYMENT OF JAFFA AS A MAJOR BASE OF ATTACK ON THE JEWISH STATE AFTER 15 MAY.
Putting ourselves in the shoes of the enemy we calculated that Jaffa, stabbing topographically at the heart of Tel Aviv could be developed into a threat of dire proportions to our defense.
*Forces could be, and we had no doubt would be, landed there from the sea by the Egyptians who could thus also keep the city and its forces supplied,
*From Jaffa a massive attack could be delivered at Tel Aviv.
*From Jaffa could emerge the northern pincer of a dangerous encircling movement in coordination with landward thrust from the south.
*At least Jaffa would divert and preoccupy heavy Jewish forces both to defend Tel Aviv and to prevent an Arab break-out to southward.
*Already in January the capture of Jaffa was included in our list of strategic objectives.
*EVERY DAY IN THOSE MONTHS WE GNASHED OUR TEETH IN HELPLESS RAGE AS THE SNIPING FROM JAFFA CONTINUED AND WAS REINFORCED, AS TIME PASSED BY MORTAR SHELLING.
*Every week moreover we learnt of the reinforcement of Arab strength in the city by some of the volunteers from the neighboring Arab states.
***Our boys indeed manned the border defense-posts together with the Haganah; BUT FOR THE NECESSARY GREAT ATTACK WE HAD NOT THE ARMS.
THE STRATEGIC SIGNIFICANCE OF JAFFA, AND THE POTENTIAL DANGER IT REPRESENTED, WAS NOT SO CLEAR TO THE JEWISH AGENCY.
On the contrary; the Haganah according to the official accounts, did not attack Jaffa not only because they did not want to clash with the British, but because they believed that, when on 15 May the British withdrew, Jaffa would be “surrounded on all sides” and would fall like a “ripe fruit.”
They therefore, so the official account runs, decided to capture all the “surrounding villages,” and not to make a direct attack on Jaffa.
The sea, on Jaffa’s fourth side, did not enter their calculations and, as usual, they did not reckon with the British.
* * *
As though a searchlight had been turned on them unexpectedly the three days of the Irgun attack on Jaffa revealed the several actors in the Palestine drama in sudden characteristic attitude.
The Irgun attackers soon learnt to their cost that to the defense of Jaffa much thought and preparation had indeed been devoted.
The Irgun’s objective was to cut off the elongated Manshieh Quarter, which thrust into Tel Aviv from the main body of Jaffa.
The frontal attack was supported by a fierce shelling of the whole city.
By the second day the shelling was having its effect.
Panic was setting in.
Flight was in progress.
Against the fortified Arab positions at Manshieh, however, the Irgun made no progress the first day.
It made little progress the next day.
Casualties were mounting.
Begin proposed suspending the attack and digging in.
It was the junior officers and men who pressed, and secured Begin’s consent, for a renewed effort .
Giddy, who commanded the operation, evolved a new plan of attack.
It was based on incessant demolitions, by a group of intrepid sappers, of the enemy buildings and strong points.
Slowly, for fifteen hours, the enemy was pressed back inch by inch across the four or five hundred yards that separated our men form the sea.
EARLY ON THE MORNING OF THE FOURTH DAY THE IRGUN FORCE DOMINATED THE MANSHIEH QUARTER, AND WAS READY TO MOVE INTO THE SOFTER HEART OF JAFFA.
* * *
The ferocity of the defense was not due only to Arab determination to hold Jaffa.
No less determined were the British.
Suddenly at Jaffa the reason for their evacuation of Haifa became clear.
THE BRIDGEHEAD BY WHICH, IF BEVIN’S PLANS SUCCEEDED, THEY WOULD REVERSE THE PROCESS OF EVACUATION WAS NOT TO BE AT HAIFA, BUT AT JAFFA.
There they made hardly a pretense of “neutrality.”
They went into action behind the Arabs, with tanks and artillery, as soon as the Irgun attack started.
It was their direct and incisive intervention in the battle that upset the Irgun’s original plan and so nearly resulted in its defeat.
Moreover, even when the Irgun had broken through, they still hoped to turn the tables.
They launched a counter-attack.
Tanks, guns and mortars took a toll of Irgun life and limb.
In an official announcement the British announced that in consequence of the Irgun attack on Jaffa they had sent in reinforcements from Cyprus and Haifa.
Whatever their tactical purpose it was at once frustrated.
Through the Haganah, with whom our agreement had now come into force, THE BRITISH DEMANDED THAT THE IRGUN HAND OVER TO THEM THE MANSHIEH POLICE STATION, THE STRATEGIC CENTRE OF THE AREA.
This friendly suggestion to throw away the fruits of victory was turned down.
INDEED TO ENSURE AGAINST ALL CONTINGENCIES THE POLICE STATION WAS DESTROYED WITHOUT DELAY.
The Irgun did agree to the second demand; not to advance, emphasizing that what it already had it would hold.
The British intervention now lost all its sense, for there were almost no Arabs left to “protect.”
To pass off their reappearance in the field as an altruistic leap to the aid of a victim of aggression might look plausible, at least in the columns of The Times.
TO REMAIN ALONE FACE TO FACE WITH THE JEWS WHEN THEIR ADOPTED PROTÉGÉS HAD DECLINED TO BE STIFFENED AND SIMPLY FLED FROM UNDER THEIR VERY SKIRTS – WAS CAPABLE OF NO SUCH EMPIRIC RATIONALIZATION.
They quickly recognized that the game was lost.
The best they could achieve now was an agreement with the Haganah for a cease-fire.
Ten days later the British left Jaffa for good.
* * *
The British forces involuntarily made a substantial contribution to the fall of Jaffa.
A large part of the arms and ammunition used by the Irgun was British.
Without them the attack could not have been delivered.
THREE WEEKS EARLIER THE IRGUN HAD CARRIED OUT TWO MAJOR RAIDS.
One was directed at a British Military Camp near Pardess Hannah in the Sharon Valley.
A fierce battle developed but the British never fully recovered from their surprise and the camp was captured.
A counter-attack by reinforcements from outside was repelled.
A second counter-repelled.
The Irgun lost one killed, the British eight.
AT THE END OF THE BATTLE, DURING WHICH THE ARMOURY HAD BEEN SYSTEMATICALLY EMPTIED OF ITS CONTENTS, THE IRGUN HAD ACQUIRED A LARGE QUANTITY OF RIFLES, BREN-GUNS, SUB-MACHINE GUNS AND AMMUNITION, AS WELL AS A FEW ARMOR-PIERCING SHELLS AND AN ARMOURED CAR.
THE SECOND RAID, AGAINST AN AMMUNITION (DEPOT) INCLUDING A LARGE QUANTITY OF MORTAR SHELLS, WERE CAPTURED.
It was these shells, fired lavishly into Jaffa a week later that probably decided its fate.
(read about this in THE REVOLT)
* * *
AFTER THE FIRST DAY OF THE BATTLE FOR JAFFA IT WAS CLEAR THAT THE IRGUN ATTACK HAD FAILED, THAT NOT EVEN A DENT HAD BEEN MADE IN THE ARAB BASTION THAT THREATENED TEL AVIV, THERE WAS A UNANIMOUS AND SUSPICIOUSLY UNIFORM REACTION IN THE HEBREW NEWSPAPER THAT SERVED THE ESTABLISHMENT.
They eagerly jumped to the conclusion that the battle was over.
They could hardly hide their satisfaction that the Arabs had succeeded in throwing back the Irgun attacks.
Complete leading articles, peppered with words like “irresponsible” and “sabotage” were written to denounce the Irgun for daring to launch the attack, and to prove how inefficient, how reckless, were the dissidents.
*Three days later, when the Irgun had broken through to the sea, the same newspapers without even changing color wrote learnedly of the great strategic importance of the capture of Manshieh, of how “the Jews could not permit Jaffa to be used as a base of operation against Tel Aviv.”
The newspapers of course took their inspiration form the Haganah leadership.
From Haganah headquarters after that first heartbreaking day a vicious statement was issued, not only describing the Irgun attack as abortive but accusing the Irgun, whose men were sweating and dying in Manshieh, of “exhibitionism.”
The very next day the Haganah leaders changed their attitude completely.
*Suddenly they remembered, or were told to remember, that two weeks had passed since the ratification by the Zionist General Council of the agreement signed six weeks earlier between the Irgun and the Jewish Agency.
IT SEEMS CLEAR THAT BEN GURION, WHO WAS THE CHIEF ARCHITECT OF DELAY, HOPED TO REACH THE 15TH OF MAY, WHEN THE JEWISH GOVERNMENT WAS DUE TO BE SET UP, WITHOUT HAVING TO SUBMIT TO THE INDIGNITY, IMPOSED ON HIM BY HIS COLLEAGUES AND BY THE ZIONIST GENERAL COUNCIL, OF COOPERATING WITH THE IRGUN.
The independent Irgun attack on Jaffa which, after all, might prove successful in the end, presumably forced the issue.
ON THE SECOND DAY OF THE BATTLE THE HAGANAH LEADERS GALILI AND YADIN MET BEGIN AND AVRAHAM.
The agreement came officially into operation.
How the attack on Jaffa became strategically wise, tactically legitimate, politically sane: It was approved.
*Now indeed the Haganah had decided to proceed with the plan for the capture of the Arab villages adjacent to Jaffa.
ALL BUT ONE FELL WITHOUT A FIGHT: THE FLIGHT FROM JAFFA HAD PROVED INFECTIOUS.
On 13 May the leaders of the Arab remnant in Jaffa officially surrendered the nearly deserted town to the Haganah.
Hence the legend, or the excuse for the legend, that Jaffa was captured by the Haganah.