Dec 1947-April 1948
Pages in Section 13
Massacre of a Haddassa Hospital Convoy
i. December 47 - Strikes and Riots
ii. Massacres at refinery and Balad al Sheikh
iii. Battle for Jerusalem 1
iv. Ben Yehuda Street bombed
v. Jewish Agency bombed
vi. 1948 Views of a Traffic Policeman
vii. Battle for the Roads 1 - Jerusalem
viii. Battle for the Roads 2 - Mishmar ha Emek
ix. Battle for the Roads 3- Deir Yassin
x. Haddassa Hospital Convoy
xi. Battle of the Roads 4- Gush Etzion
On April 13th 1948 a farcical catalogue of human error, misunderstandings and false optimism ended in tragic horror, an event so important that it may not be glossed over although no police were directly involved, unless one counts an act of omission by the Inspector in charge of the Mea Shearim station.
It took place at Sheik Jarrah, an aristocratic neighborhood for influential Jerusalem Arabs, built on both sides of a straight, narrow stretch of road between two sharp bends. The Nashashibi family owned a magnificent house by the western bend. The Mufti's vineyard, property of Haj Amin Husseini, lined the Eastern Bend. In 1937 the Grand Mufti had just finished building a large house in the vineyard, when he was deported by the British. His family rented out the new house to the distinguished Antonius family. Known as the Antonius House, it was best known in the mid forties as the location for Kate Antonius' soirees. When Kate left Sheik Jarrah in 1947, a small unit of the Highlanders Light Infantry took over Antonius House and nicknamed it Tony's Post.
The massacre of the Haddassa Hospital convoy at Sheik Jarrah that day was not solely due, as some have suggested, to the previous massacre at Deir Yassin, or Arabs' desire to revenge the death of their leader, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, at al Kastel. Arabs had been attacking Jewish convoys ever since Hagana had used Mount Scopus as an outpost and a base for a raid on Sheik Jarra's neighbouring village, Wadi al-Joz, on February 26th, as part of the struggle to defend convoys and transportation in north Jerusalem so in all probability an attack would still have taken place even if those tragedies hadn't occurred five days previously. However, there would almost certainly have been fewer Arabs involved and Jewish casualties may have been far fewer.
The Red Cross had offered to put the Mount Scopus complex of hospital and university under its flag on condition that the area be demilitarized. Haganah leaders, however, declined the proposal. They needed an armed garrison on the site since it provided unrivalled views over the surrounding countryside. Haganah had also refused police escorts, because in addition to the hospital's food, staff, patients, medicines and medical equipment, the convoys conveyed arms to the garrison. A British police escort would have searched convoys before they set out.
Nevertheless, the British inspector who headed the Mea Shearim police station, when informed of a convoy, usually phoned in to say the road was clear and then drove up beforehand as far as the Nashashibi bend, where he waited until the convoy had passed through Sheik Jarrah.
Because, however, convoys had traveled without serious incident throughout the previous weeks,on that fatal day he phoned Ha to report the route was clear but did not make his customary excursion, something he was to regret for the rest of his life.
The 10 vehicle long convoy lined up outside the Jewish Agency on April 13th contained many more passengers than usual, including a number of distinguished doctors returning from an international conference. The leading armoured truck, with Jerusalem Haganah officer, Lieutenant Asher Rahav, in charge contained a contingent of 10 Haganah soldiers and 2 hitchhiking Haganah members from the Mt Scopus garrison. The vehicle's armour had peepholes through which the soldiers could shoot and a winged roof of meshed steel covered by canvas. Behind the truck was an ambulance,followed by three buses, three trucks of food and equipment, and another ambulance. Two Haganah armoured cars stood by to escort the convoy. The mood was good. News had just been received that at last a convoy of fifteen armoured trucks full of food supplies had succeeded in reaching Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. It set off from outside the Jewish Agency at 9.30 a.m.
By 9.45 a.m. the leading truck had rounded the Nashisibi bend and was on the short narrow stretch of road passing through the Sheik Jarrah Quarter. An electronically detonated mine exploded five feet in front of it. It slid into the newly-formed crater. At the same time the whole convoy came under fire from Arab forces stationed in the buildings lining the road, at that early stage numbering less than 40. A second mine exploded that created another crater, cutting off half the convoy. The rear escort car wheeled about and returned to Jerusalem presumably to fetch reinforcements. Five other vehicles, under constant fire, managed to turn their vehicles in the narrow road and return to Jerusalem.
The Highlanders' commander was Colonel Jack Churchill,(nicknamed 'Mad Jack", because, in WW 2, he went into battle with a sword, crossbow and bagpipes) He was conducting a battalion parade when the signal arrived. He left a message for Lieutenant-General G.H.A. McMillan, that he was leaving to assess the situation. Still in full dress uniform of kilt, glengarry bonnet, red-and-white diced stockings, Sam Browne belt, and white spats, Jack Churchill left for Tony's post in a four wheel drive. His driver took a back route, unsuitable for most vehicles. On arrival, Jack dashed to the roof of Antonius House and witnessed Arabs on the roofs of several buildings shooting at the convoy while Haganah guards returned fire. The escort vehicle that had taken the brunt of the first explosion blocked the convoy's way forward. About one hundred and fifty insurgents, armed with weapons varying from blunder-busses and old flintlocks to modern Sten and Bren guns, had taken cover behind a cactus patch in the grounds of the American Colony and about 250 rifle-men were on the edge of Tony's Post also shooting at the convoy. Colonel Jack went out and faced them, asking them to desist from using the grounds of the American Colony for such a dastardly purpose. They ignored him.
He returned to Tony's post and radioed HQ for a half troop of lifeguards with two heavy armoured cars armed with cannons, an observation officer to arrange for the shelling of Arab houses and permission to use the bazookas. While he was waiting for a reply, two British armored cars drew up behind the stalled remainder of the Jewish convoy. Lieutenant-General McMillan, had come to observe the scene. As the general jotted down notes, Haganah soldiers in the convoys' sabotaged lead vehicle, fired at his car. In high dudgeon, the general ordered his driver to return to Jerusalem, leaving Arabs and Jews to fight it out.
Jack eventually received a reply from HQ. The general authorized the diversion of armoured cars and life Guards from convoy protection elsewhere to rescue hospital passengers but these would take time to arrive. Permission to use bazookas was refused.
A furious Colonel Jack ordered his driver to take him back to St Paul's. There he picked up a large armored personnel carrier, an open-topped Bren gun carrier and a small police armoured car equipped with a machine gun.
While Jack was picking up vehicles, the Jerusalem commander of Haganah, David Shaltiel sent a message to the commander of a convoy that had arrived from Tel Aviv. He askedfor the loan of the armoured cars in that convoy's escort and sent a wireless message to the Mt Scopus convoy that help was on its way.
However, the commander of the Tel Aviv convoy,on strict orders to return to Tel Aviv immediately, refused his request Jack's car, escorted by the Bren gun carrier, police car and people carrier approached the battle site. They were almost at the crater when an Arab bullet hit Jack's driver in the neck. Leaving the wounded man to the are of his escorts, Jack, swinging a walking stick, walked down the road to the convoy. The Arabs, amused by his bizarre dress uniform, refrained from shooting at him. Standing totally unprotected, Jack knocked on the door of one bus and spoke to the occupants. He offered to drive his big armored personnel carrier down to the convoy and make as many trips as necessary to evacuate the patients and their medical personnel, but warned that there might be casualties during the transfer to the British vehicle. One pasenger asked him to drive off the Arabs before they transferred. Jack explained, that as there were hundreds of Arabs and he currently had only 12 men, this was impossible.
The occupants of the bus then refused his offer saying they would wait for Haganah.
Churchill walked down the convoy repeating his offer, but everyone refused. He ran back to his vehicles, sent the police car and gun carrier back to Jerusalem and returned to Tony's post, driving the carrier himself with his wounded driver in the back. By the time he arrived the driver was dead.
For the rest of the afternoon at Tony's Post, Jack and the small residential unit, supported the Jewish convoy with small arms fire. Haganah did not arrive to save them. Finally Arab gasoline bombs and rifle fire destroyed the Jewish vehicles and most of their passengers. When the Life Guards eventually arrived there were only six survivors.
Seventy-eight Jewish doctors, nurses, students, patients, faculty members, Haganah fighters and one British soldier died in the narrow street of Sheik Jarrah. Dozens of bodies, burned beyond recognition, were buried in a mass grave in the Sanhedria Cemetery.
Battle of the Roads 4- Gush Etzion
Text Copyright Margaret Penfold, BA Hons, Dip Ed, British Palestine Police Association