An eyewitness account of the 1947-8 blockade of Jerusalem

By Moshe Peled, April 18, 2008

The 1947-8 blockade of Jerusalem


We were on the first supply convoy to Jerusalem after the UN- brokered ceasefire, and on both sides of the road were blackened lorries and cars — all that was left from previous attempts to get food and medicine into the city. At the time, in the middle of the war, I was used to seeing burnt-out vehicles and didn’t pay much attention to them. I never imagined that they would be preserved and become monuments. The UN was supposed to check that we were unarmed, and a French officer shouted at us: “I will be back in half an hour, and I don’t want to see even one weapon!” It was clear what he meant. I took my Sten gun apart and hid it under the cushion on my seat. The route to Jerusalem was then just a narrow road. At the entrance to the wadi, just after Latrun, which was the de facto border, we stopped and waited for the UN to take us through. There were lots of Jordanian soldiers there, and we began talking to them in whatever bits of English and Arabic we knew, and even without words. We exchanged cigarettes, and we gave them chocolate, which they appreciated – it was Israeli-made, but they did not seem to mind. It was quite a friendly meeting and it was hard to imagine that only days before we were killing each other, and that when the ceasefire ended we would carry on. Just a few weeks before, I was lying with a bullet wound in my side in the graveyard of the Arab village of Malkiya in the Galil, after a battle with the Lebanese army. It was the day that independence was declared. We heard the news over our walkie-talkie, but so many of our friends had been killed that there was not much celebration. My job in the Palmach was as a chablan, an explosives expert. I liked it because most of the time I worked alone, dismantling mines and blowing up bridges, and could feel more remote from the fighting. That was not always possible, though. In February, in one of the first big battles, we were at kibbutz Tirat Tzvi, in the north, which was under attack from several hundred Arab fighters. It was such a stupid attack. The fields around the kibbutz were ploughed and there was an aqueduct nearby. For some stupid reason, they decided to blow it up — so the field became a quagmire. One person in the kibbutz was killed, but the Arabs were just mown down by gunfire. I had the horrible job of going round the victims to collect their papers. The field seemed covered in dead bodies, in blood mixed with mud. In their pockets were pictures of their families, of young children. It was very distressing, and for a long time after I found it hard to sleep. When we finally got to Jerusalem, crowds of people greeted our trucks. They were half-starved. But what I remember them being most desperate for were the cigarettes we had brought. I promised myself on that day that I would never smoke again.

Last updated: 1:26pm, September 16 2008