“One man of you shall put to flight a thousand, for it is the Lord your God Who fights for you, as He promised you.” (Joshua 23:10)
(from Shmuel Katz’s memoirs)
The specter of Martial Law had assumed monstrous proportions in Palestine.
It was invested with a dread import of horrors untold and tortures unknown.
As the air thickened with rumors of its coming, the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem addressed itself to magnifying their effect.
Mrs. Meirson appealed to the British Government not to impose Martial Law.
A SUPPORTING CHORUS OF PERSONALITIES OF THE ESTABLISHMENT DEMANDED THAT THE IRGUN AND THE LEHI DESIST FROM SUICIDAL PROVOCATION OF THE BRITISH INTO THIS SUPREME CASTIGATION OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY.
(That week two immigrant ships were intercepted by the British Navy. In one, stout resistance by the immigrants resulted in a score of wounded and one dead. Mrs. Meirson chose this moment to reiterate that the Jewish Agency were anxious for good relations with the British.)
The Irgun, methodically interpreting British preparations for a drastic step in Palestine and the implications of Bevin’s announcement in the House of Commons, made its dispositions.
The High command decided to impose its own timing on events.
It gave orders for a countrywide offensive.
The storm broke on the 1st of March.
It was a Sabbath, a day on which the British believed they were entitled to the benefits of a one-sided truce.
They were taken completely by surprise.
SIXTEEN SEPARATE OPERATIONS WERE CARRIED OUT.
*Four British camps three in the north, one in the south, were attacked by mortar and machine-gun fire.
*British military vehicles were attacked throughout the country.
*The most devastating operation of the day was the frontal attack on the British Officer’s Club at Goldschmidt House in the center of Jerusalem.
(see GOLDSCHMIDT HOUSE theme)
*An Irgun unit overcame the resistance of the patrols and guards, and blew up the Building.
*British casualties in killed and wounded that day numbered more than eighty.
*A score of armoured vehicles were destroyed.
*In Britain an angry tumult arose.
*Its theme was crystallized in a vociferous headline in the Sunday express: Govern or Get Out.
Bevin marched boldly into the ambush.
When the people in Palestine turned on their radio for the early morning news next day they learnt that in the area containing Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan and Pitah Tikva and a part of Jerusalem Martial Law was already in operation.
Its reality – the catalogue of indignities, of restrictions in the moral routine of living, the pattern of economic paralysis, the uninhibited and omnipresent display of British strength – was indeed formidable.
*All Government services were suspended.
*There was no postal delivery, and all but a few telephones were operated.
*There were no trains, no buses, no taxis - no motor transport at all.
*The civil courts were suspended, and a special military court was set up.
*Food was to be distributed only by the Army.
*No movement was allowed in or out of the Zones.
*A British Army cordon sealed off all the approaches to each zone.
*Every soldier was given the authority of a policeman.
*Anybody disobeying any order by a soldier was liable to be shot.
>In speedy earnest two people were thus killed. Nobody ever learnt what order they had disobeyed.
>That one of them was a four-year-old girl was no doubt accidental.
***YET IT GAVE HARSH POINT TO THE TOTAL OBJECTIVE OF MARTIAL LAW: THE TERRORIZATION OF THE JEWS INTO BETRAYAL OF THE UNDERGROUND.
The British were not at all reticent about the tenacity with which they proposed to pursue their objects, nor about their unqualified confidence that they would attain them.
General Gale, Commander of the operation in Tel Aviv (solemnly named Operation Elephant) explained breezily to newspaper correspondents that the restrictions were designed to lighten the Army’s task of unearthing the terrorists, who were known to be concentrated in these areas.
Martial Law would continue until the terrorists had been run to earth even, he said, if it took weeks.
The terrorists, he explained, were trapped.
They could escape only by sea, and there the Navy would take care of them.
Indeed several destroyers, released from their duties in the hounding of immigrant ships, were seen patrolling the coast off Tel Aviv.
*Day after day at successive Press conferences, this prospect was unfolded for the quarter of a million Jews held to ransom.
WITHIN A FORTNIGHT MARTIAL LAW HAD COLLAPSED IGNOMINIOUSLY.
*First the Irgun and the Lehi demonstrated that they existed outside of the Martial Law Zones.
*Day after day British transport and installations were attacked in the north and the south outside the periphery of Elephant and of Hippopotamus (the name given the operation in Jerusalem).
*Then on the seventh night, a number of operations were carried out simultaneously in the heart of the Tel Aviv area, including an attack on the “Bevingrad” centered on Citrus House.
*Thereafter, in utter disregard of the British cordons, both the Irgun and the Lehi switched their attacks in and out of the zones at will.
IN ALL, BY BRITISH ARMY COUNT, SIXTY-EIGHT ATTACKS WERE CARRIED OUT.
*The most daring blow was delivered on the eleventh night.
The British fortified zone centered on the Schneller Buildings in Jerusalem was subjected to a meticulously executed frontal assault.
(see SCHNELLER BUILDINGS ATTACK theme)
The vaunting Goliath that had swaggered and strutted onto the stage a fortnight earlier was now hastily hustled off in shambling disarray.
ON 16 MARCH, FOUR DAYS AFTER THE SCHNELLER ATTACK, MARTIAL LAW WAS LIFTED.
Dramatic as were the events of the fortnight in Palestine, their political repercussions in Britain were even more spectacular.
Bevin had flown to a Four-Power Conference.
He had every reason to believe that it would fail to bring understanding with the Soviet Union and that in consequence the United States would be drawn closer to Britain.
In this he was right.
He also believed, presumably, that by the time he returned the Army would have crushed the resistance in Palestine and dammed the flow of opposition in Britain to his policy.
*The devastating failure of Martial Law, the striking demonstration of the power and scope of the Palestine underground, turned the tide of opposition into a swelling flood pressing for his immediate retreat.
*Each blow delivered in Palestine had its immediate and uncannily harmonious echo in the House of Commons.
Commanding the flood was Winston Churchill, now convinced absolutely that the Government could not hope to crush the Jews, that they had no cards left to play.
He did not mince words.
The time had come to face the facts.
In sharp, scathing accuracy he described British policy and its consequences.
“One hundred thousand Englishmen” he said “are being kept away from their homes and work for a senseless squalid war with the Jews. We are getting ourselves hated and mocked by the world at a cost of eighty millions.”
*Pressing against the crack opened by Bevin in his defenses, Churchill insisted that the approach to the United Nations be turned into a demand for urgent action.
Before the Irgun offensive of 1 March, he had had to content himself, on 25 February, with Creech-Jones’s thesis that it was very difficult to speed the processes of the United Nations.
***By the middle of March, on the day after the Irgun’s punishing commando attack in Jerusalem, he had extracted from the Government a submissive undertaking to ask the United Nations to meet in a special session on the Palestine problem.
* * *
There was an incongruously festive air in the streets of Tel Aviv.
Deprived of their regular transport services, the people unearthed the most unlikely conveyances.
Horse-drawn carts, some of them looking as though they had been thrown together from old pieces of wood, plied for hire, their cheerful sounding drivers urging on the horses manifestly plucked from retirement.
Here an there you would see and animal conjured into renewed youthfulness by a bright red ribbon at his ears.
Cartloads of children, enchanted by the Heaven sent diversion, sang gleefully above the clatter of the hoofs.
Donkeys and mules materialized inexplicably; and the town’s full complement of three generations of bicycles tinkled in rustic abandon along the unencumbered streets.
Fear and doubt lodged in the hearts of the people.
OUTWARDLY, IN CONTAGIOUS SOLIDARITY, THEY DISPLAYED A CHEERFUL, EVEN BANTERING DEFIANCE WHICH GREW MORE PRONOUNCED AS EACH DAY THE COUNTER-BLOWS OF THE UNDERGROUND STRUCK HOME.