I got this in the mail so I thought I would post it — it’s excerpts from an article that appeared in the recent issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies.
The Fall of Haifa
Caption: zionist terrorists forcing Palestinian civilians out of Haifa at gunpoint
The all-out Zionist attack on Haifa began in the early morning of Wednesday, 21 April 1948, and ended the following day with the fall of the city into Zionist hands. Within a week, some 50,000 Arab inhabitants had been expelled. The attack was not an isolated phenomenon, nor was it a reaction to any local Arab initiative. It was an important phase of the general Zionist offensive begun on 1 April that was to pave the way for the proclamation of the State of Israel.
Until 1 April, the Zionists had confined themselves to sniping, mortar shelling, and the planting of time bombs and booby-trapped vehicles in Arab urban areas, and to hit-and-run attacks in the countryside wherein several houses at a time would be blown up over the heads of their inhabitants. But the Zionists did not begin to seize and hold on to Arab territory until their new April offensive, which was motivated primarily by political considerations.
[The April] offensive aimed at consolidating and broadening the areas under Zionist occupation by clearing them of Arabs and by linking them [i.e., the Zionist areas] more closely together. It was to this end that Operation Nachshon was launched on 1 April to carve out an adequate corridor from Tel Aviv on the coast to Jerusalem in the interior. This involved the occupation and destruction of a score of Arab villages and culminated in the Battle of Castel on 11 April. (The Dayr Yasin massacre by the Irgunists on 9 April was an integral part of Operation Nachshon.) As soon as the operation, which resulted in the expulsion of 10,000 to 15,000 Arab villagers, was concluded on 13 April, Operation Jephtha was launched to clear Eastern Galilee of Arabs and to link Tiberias with Safed. Operation Jephtha was inaugurated with the seizure of Tiberias on 18 April and the expulsion of its Arab inhabitants, about 4,500, a number that was swollen threefold by refugees from neighboring villages as Operation Jephtha proceeded.
Haifa was not coveted only for its relative importance, but as a prize in itself. It was the greatest Arab harbor in the Eastern Mediterranean after Alexandria. It was the terminal point of the oil pipeline from Iraq (and therefore perhaps an important bargaining lever with the Arabs). It was a key rail and road communication center. It was in close proximity to the “industrial belt” that skirted the bay of Acre.
To the Arabs, Haifa was an integral part of their country. Their aim was to see that it did not fall into Zionist hands, but the most they could do was simply to hold their ground. Their position at the foot of the Carmel ridge, with the Jewish quarters dominating them from higher ground, was precarious in the extreme. Though Arab villages such as Balad al-Shaykh in the east and Tireh in the south were near at hand, the strategic approaches to the city were completely dominated by Zionist settlements, such that reinforcements from farther afield could often reach Haifa only at suicidal cost to the Arabs themselves.
As soon as street fighting broke out in Haifa after the UN partition decision in November, Muslim and Christian residents of the city formed an Arab National Committee (ANC). Its chairman was Rashid al-Haj Ibrahim, a benign 62-yearold gentleman who looked and felt out of his depth in the bewildering series of situations he was called upon to face. Broadly speaking, the ANC was politically responsible to the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) for Palestine, but militarily it depended for supplies on the Arab League Military Committee based in Damascus. On 28 December 1947, the ANC engaged a young and energetic lieutenant in the Arab Legion, Muhammad Hamad al-Huneidi, who resigned his commission to volunteer his services as the local commander. Huneidi acted under the ANC and was put in charge of all security matters. When he took over, the Haifa National Guard numbered 75 members armed with weapons ranging from rifles to wooden clubs and canes. By the time Huneidi was killed in action on 17 March, as he was returning from Lebanon with supplies, the National Guard had increased to about 350. Many of these were members of sporting organizations in Haifa, and some were ex-servicemen who had served with the British army on the Egyptian front during World War II. About half were part-timers, and the vast majority were from Haifa itself. Under Huneidi, the town was divided into ten security zones, each under a local defense group led by a person reporting directly to a central headquarters. The limiting factor was always arms supplies, and the most frustrating problem was obtaining the right ammunition to match the rich variety of rifles, which included not a few museum pieces. Huneidi was ably assisted by Yunis Naffa, a sanitary inspector in Haifa with a flair for military organization. Upon Huneidi’s death, he temporarily took over command of the National Guard before the arrival of Huneidi’s replacement.
In addition to security, the ANC looked after the general welfare of Haifa’s Arab community. Quite early on, a system of rationing was introduced, and prices were monitored to prevent profiteering. Offenders were tried before special courts. These courts also came down heavily on Arab lawless elements who took advantage of the general confusion during outbursts of fighting to break into shops or houses. The ANC also collected regular contributions and supervised their expenditure. As the scale of fighting increased, the Committee became more and more preoccupied with such problems as identifying corpses, medical care for the wounded and disabled, and food and shelter for the destitute and orphans. Contact between the Haifa ANC and the Palestine AHC in Cairowas maintained through messengers and telephone conversations between Rashid al-Haj Ibrahim and Haj Amin al-Husayni, the mufti of Palestine and head of the AHC, in which the two gentlemen brushed up their Turkish in a valiant attempt to hoodwink the British CID and the Zionist espionage network. On 28 March, Captain Amin Izzeddin, a Lebanese Druze formerly of the Trans-Jordanian Frontier Force, arrived in Haifa as Huneidi’s successor. With Izzeddin came reinforcements of approximately platoon strength (30–40 men). Though too small to affect the overall balance of power, the reinforcements were welcome in view of the heavy losses incurred in the ambush in which Huneidi had lost his life ten days earlier. Izzeddin retained Naffa as his second-in-command.
Haifa and the Myth of the “Arab Evacuation Orders”
For some inexplicable reason, the Zionists have chosen Haifa to support their myth that the Arab authorities had an organized plan to evacuate the Arab inhabitants of Palestine as a preliminary to the invasion of the country by the regular Arab armies when the Mandate ended on 15 May. The present writer discussed this myth at length in his article in Middle East Forumin July 1959. There is no point in covering the same ground here. But since the Zionists seem to base their case on Haifa, it would seem relevant to ask why they single out Haifa. Haifawas not the first town to lose its Arab population; Tiberias had fallen three days earlier. Where are the evacuation orders for its Arab population? Nor was Tiberias the first locality to be occupied. Operation Nachshon, which preceded its fall, accounted for the occupation and destruction of a score of Arab villages and the expulsion of some 10,000 to 15,000 villagers. Where are the Arab evacuation orders in this case? Nor was Haifa the last Arab town to lose its Arab inhabitants before the end of the Mandate. There was Operation Jephtha, which began before (and continued well after) the fall of Haifa and “cleared the ground” between Tiberias and Safed, involving the conquest and evacuation of scores of Arab villages.
But to go back to Haifa: The specific directives not to leave the country addressed to the people of Palestine by the Arab League, the AHC for Palestine, and the Arab Liberation Armywere referred to in this writer’s article mentioned above. These directives applied to Haifa as much as they did to any other part of Palestine. Indeed, if anything, the AHC erred on the side of excessive zeal in opposing evacuation of whatever kind.
It is normal in all countries in time of war to evacuate women and children from endangered zones, particularly if the enemy’s land forces are nearby. But even this simple precaution the AHC would not countenance. This is clear from a copy of the telegram sent by AHC president Haj Amin to the AHC representative in Beirut on 3 March 1948. The telegram, which is initialed in its draft form by Haj Amin himself, reads: “The emigration of children and others fromPalestine to Syria and Beirut is detrimental to our interests. Contact the proper authorities in Damascus and Beirut to prevent it, and inform us of the result.”
But let us look more closely at the attitude of the Haifa National Committee. The Committee issued twelve communiques between its formation and the fall of the city. These communiques constituted its only public pronouncements and embodied all the orders and warnings it ever made to the Arabs of Haifa. The writer has been able to locate all twelve communiques. The following are their contents:
Communique 1 (6 December 1947) announces the formation of the committee and asks for the cooperation of all the Arabs. “Every Arab man and woman must be patient and display self-control. He must not listen to rumors. He must stay at his post or at his work whenever an incident occurs. This is both to insure his or her safety and to avoid confusion. The telephone numbers of the committee are 3540 and 2167. All incidents must be directly reported. Finally, no Arab must attack a fellow Arab; old enmities must be buried; large gatherings in the streets, open spaces, or cafes are not allowed; children must not play in groups; profiteering and lawless acts will be severely punished.”
Communique 2 (10 December 1947) categorically forbids public gatherings and individual acts and attacks (against the Zionists). Children must be kept either at school or at home and must not be allowed to play in groups on the streets.
Communique 3 (12 December 1947) starts with the words “Beware of Fifth Columnists” and goes on to say that some “vile and criminal” individuals are disseminating false reports and rumors among the public “which are designed to help the enemy by spreading panic and confusion.” This Fifth Column “has actually succeeded in its first round in influencing some people to leave their properties and houses, which have become an easy prey to the enemy who has seized and occupied them.” The communique ends by urging all Arabs to oppose confusion and defeatism.
Communique 4 (14 December 1947) announces the formation of local subcommittees which are to be in charge of security matters in all quarters. “These subcommittees are empowered to prevent people from abandoning their houses, particularly along the borders of the mixed Arab-Jewish areas.” The committee warns against public gatherings and calls upon tradesmen and shopkeepers to return to work.
Communique 5 (16 December 1947) comprises 25 specific requests which are largely a repetition of what had been said earlier viz. warnings against public gatherings, instructions about how to get in touch with the committee in case of need, etc. Request no. 11 is: “Carry on work as usual and do not neglect to open your shops and offices.” Request no. 13 reads: “Do not give in to warnings and threats and never desert your houses.”
Communique 6 (27 December 1947) refers to recent victims of attacks and calls upon Arabs not to give in to the temptations of retaliation. It asks for closer cooperation with the local committees and states that it will be very strict with those who, by taking the law into their own hands, encourage brigandage. The committee urges the public “each to apply himself to his work, the tradesman to open his shop, the laborer to carry on his work as usual.”
Communique 7 (29 December 1947, after the Zionists had rolled down a barrel bomb from Hadar Ha Carmel): The committee prays for the victims of the barrel bomb and asks that all firing (begun after the explosion) should cease “in the national interest” and that the public resume work as usual.
Communique 8 (8 January 1948 ) is about rationing and profiteering.
Communique 9 (8 January 1948 )is addressed to “employees in the oil companies, (British) army camps, and railways, to all Arab workers in Haifa and its district, and to Arab members of the police force and other Arab government officials.” The text is as follows: “The National Committee has undertaken to help you in all that pertains to your security and to safeguard your interests, both present and future. The committee believes that in no circumstances must you give up your jobs or delay in the performance of your duties. Members of the police are particularly requested to remain at their posts and are warned against attempting to abscond with theirweapons. Allmust stay at their work. Those who leave their work not only harm themselves by losing their means of livelihood, but they also harm their nation, for they pave the way to the employment of foreigners in their places. The committee believes that the country’s resources must remain in our hands. But this can only be insured if the workers in the oil companies and army camps and the government employees and members of the police force all remain at their posts. This is their national duty and theymust be fully aware of it. The committeewould like to assure you that it is watching over your interests and is ready to give you all the necessary protection.”
Communique 10 (1 March 1948 ) is a warning to lawless Arab elements. It announces the formation of a special security committee and special military and civilian tribunals to deal with offenders.
Communique 11 (18 March 1948 ) announces the death in action the day before of Lieutenant Huneidi, the garrison commander, and thirteen of his comrades and gives particulars of the time and place of the burial ceremonies.
Communique 12 (20 March 1948 ) triumphantly announces the American reversal of attitude on partition: “The Americans and their accomplices in support of partition (with the exception of Communist Russia) are in full retreat.” The committee, however, warns that all is not over yet. “We must persevere in our work and beware of surprise attacks and treachery. We must hold firm to our positions.” The communique, the last official Arab pronouncement to be made in Haifa before its fall, ends as follows: “The Committee would like to drawattention to the following points: (a) What has so far been achieved is only a preliminary victory; (b) we must avoid all clashes with the security forces and the army [i.e., the British] in the next phase. We must likewise continue our policy of not attacking government departments and installations. (c) We must avoid all individual acts. (d) Everyone must maintain his position and carry out all instructions and orders given to him. Long live Palestine, free, Arab, united, independent. Long live the memory of our martyrs.”
Wednesday, 21 April
The 21st was a Wednesday. To the Arabs it looked at first like any other day. There was firing in the early morning in various parts of the town, but there was nothing unusual about that. It certainly could not have occurred to the Arabs in Haifa that this was to be their last morning in their homes.
The impact of the British withdrawal on the Arab position was catastrophic. The Zionist foreknowledge of the British withdrawal enabled them to occupy, at no cost to themselves, the commanding and key points along the demarcation line previously held by the British. This not only vastly strengthened their already preponderant position over the Arabs below, but also presented the Arabs with a new facade of fire to which they had to adjust themselves in the heat of battle. The Zionists, in their knowledge of the direction of the British withdrawal, could decide at leisure where their main thrust was to be and could plan and orchestrate coordinated attacks from both the commercial center near the harbor and from Hadar Ha Carmel. The Arabs of Haifa were entirely cut off from the outside world. British road blocks on the roads to Jaffa, Nazareth, Acre, and Jenin stopped and pushed back Arab reinforcements from the neighboring villages. Tactically, there was very little the Arabs could do. A showdown was forced on the Arabs by the British at a time and in circumstances selected by the Zionists—and known by the British to have been so selected.
Thus, perhaps the least warlike urban population in the eastern Mediterranean was called upon to engage in a life and death struggle: facing an enemy entrenched in impregnable positions uphill and poised to pounce upon them, with their backs to the sea only 300 yards away, where crack units of the British army and Marines surveyed the scene with perhaps more than a flicker of professional curiosity. Above all, it was the element of surprise that counted. The psychological shock to the Arabs was all the more profound in that they had not felt any sense of urgency about Haifa. Their understanding and hope based on official British pronouncements was that the British would remain in Haifa for three months after the termination of the Mandate, since it was through Haifa’s harbor that the evacuation from Palestine was to be channeled.
Advancing Columns and Psychological Blitz
At 1:30 P.M. Farid Saad, a Haifa banker and member of the ANC,was invited to lunch at the house of Rafiq Beydoun, the senior district officer in the Mandate administration. Beydoun had also invited the British military commander of Haifa [General Stockwell], the British superintendent of police, and Beydoun’s superior, the British deputy district commissioner, together with a number of Haifa notables. Stockwell and the police superintendent excused themselves, but the deputy district commissioner, a Mr. Fitzpatrick, attended. According to Saad (Al-Kulliyah, April 1949), “On his arrivalMr. Fitzpatrick took me aside and hinted that the Army was on the point of withdrawing from the Arab quarters of the town, and that if I had the welfare of the Arab women and children at heart I should immediately contact the Jews and save innocent blood from being shed” (Saad had not yet heard of the Stockwell-Izzeddin meeting, and it is interesting that Fitzpatrick should have said that the British Army was “on the point of” withdrawing).
As they were talking, firing broke out. This was not the kind of firing that had become routine at that time of day, but rather, according to Saad, was “on a hitherto unprecedented scale.” In fact, the firing was connected to the capture of the Arab Najjadah building overlooking the Wadi Rushmiyya Bridge from the south, intended by the Zionists as the preliminary move before zero-hour, which they had set at sundown (Sacher, p. 243).
A few hours before sundown, from about 3 P.M. onwards, the Zionists launched what Kimche himself describes (Seven Fallen Pillars, p. 219) as “a psychological blitz.” According to Kimche: “Loudspeaker vans and leaflets were distributed calling on the Arab population to stand by for an important announcement, to keep away from foreign volunteers, and to stay indoors.” Arthur Koestler in Promise and Fulfillment (in the chapter entitled “David and Goliath,” p. 207) also describes this psychological blitz. “Haganah was using not only its radio station but also loudspeaker vans which blared their sinister news from the vicinity of the Arab suqs. They warned the Arab population to keep clear of the billets of the foreign mercenaries who had infiltrated into the town,warned them to send their women and children away before any new contingents of savage Iraqis arrived, promised them safe conduct and escorts to Arab territory, and hinted at terrible consequences if their warnings were disregarded.” After several hours of this, coming on top of the sound of the unusually severe battle for the Najjadah building, the Arab population of Haifa became restless and panicky. Farid Saad had still not gotten his interview with Stockwell.
Six-thirty P.M. was zero hour. The Zionists opened up with heavy machine guns and mortars. The lower parts of the town were shelled indiscriminately [fromHadar Ha Carmel], while the four Zionist columns tackled the nearer Arab obstacles. According to Saad, “this was quite different from what we had been accustomed to.” According to Sacher (p. 243), the shelling “caused much terror and some destruction.” The psychological blitzwas kept up simultaneously with the shelling, creating a strange cacophony of sounds. According to Kimche, (p. 219) “this procedure [i.e., the psychological blitz]was repeated throughout the evening until midnight.”
Stampede to the Harbor
The Zionist column from the commercial center had finally fought its way through the Old Town and linked up with the other columns. The state of panic and confusion in the Old Town had reached its climax, and there was a continuous mass stampede for the sea. According to Wilson, “While the Arabs were in full flight they were engaged by the advanced Jewish posts which inflicted a number of casualties on them. The British police did great work in restoring some measure of order outside the suq and minimizing the effect of panic, and the Royal Marines were equally outstanding in the port. The latter had three officers wounded by Jewish fire as they sought to control the stream of refugees.” (p. 193)
The Zionists had also begun rounding up young [Arab] men for “interrogation.” Arab corpses were thrown into the thus-far unaffected residential quarters west of Carmel Avenue to frighten the middle-class Arab inhabitants remaining there. According to Koussa (Jewish Observer, 11 September 1959), the American consul, Mr. Aubry Lippincott, “saw the marks of floggings on the bodies of a number of Arabs.” Inside the Old Town, a most serious problem had arisen because of the dead bodies lying about. Eyewitness accounts say that volunteer Arab squads dug communal graves for Christian and Muslim Arabs because of the difficulties of identification.
Kimche toured the Arab suq that day (Seven Fallen Pillars, p. 220): “I walked later through the suq and saw the state of disorder in which the Arabs had left their homes, often not bothering to pick up silver and valuables which they could easily have carried in their hands.”
This is what the Zionists call a calculated policy sponsored by the Arab League and the Palestine Arab Higher Committee to evacuate the Arabs of Palestine as part of a carefully worked-out strategy to facilitate the entry of the Arab regular armies at the end of the British Mandate.