How the bat­tle for Jaffa lives on

Jews and Arabs hold con­flict­ing mem­o­ries of the con­fronta­tion that lead to Is­rael’s es­tab­lish­ment

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY BEN LYN­FIELD

DE­SPITE FLAGS ev­ery­where and ae­rial ac­ro­bat­ics for Is­rael’s 60th birth­day, ghosts were still haunt­ing Jaffa this week.

At Etzel House, a mu­seum that com­mem­o­rates the con­quest of Jaffa in 1948 by Me­nachem Be­gin’s un­der­ground fight­ers, also known as the Ir­gun, 82-year-old vet­eran Joseph Nach­mias re­calls how forces moved from house to house, ham­mer­ing holes in the walls to en­ter.

It was a turn­ing point on the way to Is­rael’s es­tab­lish­ment and it re­moved the threat of Arab snipers who were shoot­ing into Tel Aviv, he says.

“We handed Jaffa to the new state on a plat­ter of sil­ver and blood,” Mr Nach­mias in­sists.

Mr Nach­mias, who com­manded 80 of the 600 Ir­gun troops, re­calls how the fu­ture Is­raeli prime min­is­ter Mr Be­gin came out of hid­ing to ad­dress the fight­ers on the eve of the Jaffa bat­tle.

“It was the first time ever that Be­gin ap­peared in front of us. Many peo­ple fainted from ex­cite­ment.”

Mr Nach­mias’s fight­ers bat­tled with snipers po­si­tioned at the top of the Has­san Bek mosque near Tel Aviv. Dur­ing the bat­tle, Arabs took flight amid heavy and, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial Bri­tish ac­counts, “in­dis­crim­i­nate” Ir­gun shelling over a wide area of Jaffa.

Af­ter Bri­tish forces with­drew at the close of the Pales­tine man­date, Ir­gun fight­ers en­tered Jaffa for a vic­tory pa­rade on May 14. Com­man­ders had pre­pared buses and trucks in or­der to ex­pel any re­main­ing Arabs, Mr Nach­mias re­calls. Jaffa’s pre-war pop­u­la­tion had been 80,000. Af­ter the fight­ing, 3,000 Arabs were left.

“We were pre­pared to send them where their brothers went,” Mr Nach­mias says. “But Be­gin said, ‘let them stay and live in peace with us.’”

Mr Nach­mias says he re­grets that de­ci­sion.

“Now the Arabs in Jaffa num­ber 30,000 and we have a lot of prob­lems with them but they are Is­raeli cit­i­zens and we can do noth­ing about it.”

Sami Abu She­hadi, whose grand­fa­ther was among the 3,000 who stayed, gives al­ter­na­tive tours to keep memo- ries of pre-1948 Jaffa alive. Stand­ing on David Raziel Street, named af­ter an Ir­gun com­man­der, Mr Abu She­hadi ex­plains: “Be­fore 1948 this was Iskan­der Awad Street. He was a Le­banese in­vestor who built the first im­por­tant mod­ern streets in Jaffa.

“This area was the heart of Yafa,” he con­tin­ues, us­ing the city’s Ara­bic name. “Here was the Bri­tish po­lice sta­tion. In the mar­ket, you had peo­ple from Syria sell­ing sweets and Egyp­tians sell­ing cloth.

“Over there were the of­fices of for­eign com­pa­nies that ex­ported or­anges, there were a few im­porters, a few banks, stores for ex­pen­sive rugs and cloths and an of­fice build­ing for en­gi­neers, lawyers and doc­tors. Some of our mosques were de­stroyed in the fight­ing. One mosque is to­day a nice pub and restau­rant.”

He says a Jan­uary 1948 bomb­ing by the Lehi un­der­ground group was a main fac­tor in spread­ing fear among Jaffa’s Arabs.

Mr Abu She­hadi took is­sue with au­thor­i­ties for hang­ing up flags in Arab parts of Jaffa.

“They are rais­ing the flag be­cause they won the war but in this war there were vic­tims,” he says. “ And th­ese vic­tims are my peo­ple.”

PHOTO: YAEL ILAN

Joseph Nach­mias: Mem­o­ries of war

PHOTO: YAEL ILAN

Sami Abu She­hadi stands in front of the clock tower that has be­come a land­mark of the for­mer port town

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