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The occupation of Haifa in the War of Independence and Operation 'Scissors' which was carried out by 'Bayor Hametz'

Operation "Hametz Afforestation" - the occupation of Haifa in the War of Independence


On Friday, May 14, 1948, at 09:25, a plane landed in Haifa from Qalandiya Airport in Jerusalem. The seventh High Commissioner, General Alan Gordon Cunningham, Commander of the Israeli Air Force, Air Commander William Dawson and Lieutenant General Gordon Holmes Macmillan, Commander of the British Army in Israel, got off the plane. After reviewing a guard of honor by the police and saying goodbye to the representatives of the Jewish and Arab communities of Haifa, the entourage went to the port. An honor guard of navy commandos was waiting at the port. After the playing of the British national anthem, the High Commissioner's flag was lowered, and without speeches the Commissioner was led to the cruiser Euryalus, which fired 17 salutes. The British flag remained hoisted in the port until its final removal about a month and a half later, on June 30, thus Haifa became a liberated city in the full sense of the word. 

(The flag that was taken down on June 30 was taken by the trumpeter John Bartt, and in May 2004 it was given to the employee of the Affiliation Museum, the late Mrs. Adina Hacarmali).

the background

On Sunday, November 30, 1947, at 8:15, eight hours after the vote on the partition resolution at the United Nations, 5 Jews were killed and 9 wounded in an ambush by an Arab gang near Petach Tikva. These were the first shots of the War of Independence.

The violent events also reached Haifa, where there was a certain type of Jewish-Arab coexistence. The city had about 140,000 inhabitants, with a little over half of them being Jews. The Jewish population had a topographical advantage over the Arab neighborhoods, an active and organized public system, an internal Likud, an industrial infrastructure and a solid rear in the periphery. The branch of the "Hagana" organization in Haifa was one of the largest in Israel and numbered about 6,000 people, but its fighting force numbered only 4 companies. The Etzel organization in the city numbered several hundred people, most of whom were not fighters, and the Lahi organization had a few fighters in the city. 

The Arabs had about 1,000 fighters in Haifa, including about 250 volunteers from around the country, Syria, Lebanon and a number of Iraqis. Several companies of the Jordanian Legion were also stationed in the city on security missions. 

Also, since the events of 1936-39, a buffer line has been created between the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Since the outbreak of the events on November 30, violent incidents have occurred in the city between the two populations almost every day. These events will not be detailed in this article, and we will review only the two dramatic events that affected the course of the battles and the final result.

Rushmia Bridge and Beit Hanjada (Haifa History Association)

The massacre at the refineries and the retaliatory action in Balad al-Sheikh

In November 1939, the first refining unit was operated in the refineries in Haifa, which were established as part of the British geo-strategic array in the region. This system also included the oil line from Iraq (IPC), the port, fuel tanks, the airport and more. During the period in question, about 60 Britons, 460 Jews and about 1,810 Arabs worked in the refineries, with hundreds more day laborers waiting at the gate every morning looking for work.

On Tuesday, December 30, 1947, at 10:20 a.m., a van belonging to the Etzel organization passed in front of the entrance and from it 2 improvised bombs were thrown at the Arab workers. 6 of them were killed and about 50 were wounded. In response, the workers broke in, and together with the Arab workers who worked in the factory, began to murder Jewish workers. 39 Jews were murdered in this incident and 51 were injured. 

At the same time, 19-year-old Yosef Elias Matans "Abu Kamil" was working as a junior clerk in the human resources department of the refineries. He hid Jewish workers in his office and thus saved their lives. In 2006, Yosef received the "Dear Haifa" badge, and on Independence Day 2010 he was among the 12 lighters of the beacons on Mount Herzl. Yosef passed away in July 2015. 

In response to the 39th murder, the "Haganah" carried out a retaliatory operation on the night between 31/12/47 and 1/1/48 in Balad al-Sheikh (Nesher) and Hawasa (Tel Hanan), since some of the Arab refinery workers lived there . Dozens of Arabs were killed in this operation, most of whom were not connected to the murder at all. (There are conflicting reports on the number of dead).

The ambush in Kiryat Motzkin

The commander of the Arab Haifa, Muhammad a-Din a-Torek, a former officer in the Jordanian Legion, was killed at the end of January 1948 after trying to infiltrate a car bomb into the Bat Galim neighborhood. The Arabs of the city turned to another officer in the legion, Lieutenant Muhammad Hamed al-Honeiti, a young and talented officer who served in the fifth company of the legion in Haifa, and offered him the position. He answered in the affirmative. Hunaythi checked the force and the military at his disposal, and found that they were few and poor (the Mufti refused to supply weapons to Haifa, since the city's Arab leaders were not among his supporters). Therefore, Hunaythi decided to go to Beirut to recruit volunteers, financial donations, weapons and ammunition. From Beirut he reported He telephoned the Arab leadership in Haifa every day about the progress of his efforts, and the SH (the Hagana's news service), which listened to the phone lines, was updated on what was happening.

Avraham Avigdorov, hero of Israel (Haifa History Association)

On the morning of Thursday, 17/3/1948, Shi learned that Honeyti with the convoy of volunteers and weapons were at the Rosh Hankara crossing on their way to Haifa, and that they were hastily preparing an ambush in the empty area north of Kiryat Motzkin. A previous ambush, a few hours earlier, near Nahariya, failed. The ambush was carried out by the Palmach detachment from Ramat-Yohanan under the command of Pinchas Zussman "Siko" (later, professor of economics and director general of the Ministry of Defense). The weapons convoy was destroyed along with its men, led by Hunyiti. After the war, two of the fighters received the "Hero of Israel" for their part in this action: Avraham Avigdorov "Bomchik" and Emanuel Landau, who was killed in the battle. The destruction of the weapons convoy broke the spirit of the Arabs of Haifa and was a very important factor in the occupation of the city later.

In his memoirs, one of the leaders of the Arab Haifa, Haj Nimar al-Khatib, writes: "One of the heavy blows that fell on the Arab Haifa and which was an important reason for its fall to the Jews, was the harassment of the weapons convoy near Kiryat Motzkin and its destruction. In the attack on this convoy, the commander of the Arab Haifa was also killed, Molazem Muhammad al-Hamad al-Hunaiti, as well as all the companions of the caravan, except for one..."

Hero of Israel Emmanuel Landau (Haifa History Association)

Operation "Hametz Afforestation"

At the end of March 1948, due to numerous attacks on Jewish transport, it was decided at the headquarters of the 22nd Battalion of the Carmeli Brigade, which was responsible for Haifa and its surroundings, to conduct an extensive operation against the Arabs in order to discourage them. The planning of the operation was assigned to the deputy commander of the battalion, David Kazeshtcher "Kaz", and he called the plan "Operation Scissors", since the intention was to attack the city on both sides. The plan was shelved, since in the meantime battles flared up near the city against the "Salvation Army" in Mishmar Ha'emek and Ramat Yohanan.

All the while, the British continued to evacuate the Land of Israel, as the northern enclave under their control became smaller and smaller. It was headed by General Hugh Charles Stockwell, commander of the 6th Airborne Division, headquartered in Haifa. Stockwell tried to mediate between the Jewish and Arab leaderships for an agreement and understanding, but he knew the situation well on the ground and contrary to the policy makers cleared various areas, such as Safed and Rosh Pina, ahead of time. Even in Haifa, he knew the great priority of the "Haganah" and its intention to conduct an extensive attack, so on the night between April 20 and 21, he reduced the deployment of his forces in the city, such as the important position in Beit Ha-Isaii, and transferred the evacuated positions to the "Haganah".

In the "Carmeli" brigade, under the command of Moshe Carmel (Zlitzky) and the commander of the 22nd battalion, Avraham Peled (Eisenberg), decided to take advantage of the partial evacuation and attack. The "Scissors" program was taken out of the loop and they followed it, but since that evening was Seder night, the name of the operation was changed to Operation "Hametz Deforestation". 

Map of the Battle of Haifa (Association for the History of Haifa)

the battles

A. The eastern axis - the Nejada house and the "semi-round house":

In 1943, the residents of the Arab neighborhood of Halisa establish a neighborhood committee that is supposed to deal with education, sanitation and social assistance. The committee is called the "Public Reform Council in the Eastern Quarter of Haifa" and is located in a 3-story stone house on Saladin Street (the heroes of today), which dominates the Rushmiya Bridge (inaugurated in May 1928) and serves as the main axis from Hadar HaCarmel east to the valley. After the establishment of the Najada organization in Jaffa at the end of 1945, by the lawyer Muhammad Nimar al-Hawari, a branch of it was opened in Haifa and is located in the same building. That's why the house is called the Nejada house. The organization, whose name means "the aid", was founded as a semi-military youth organization, it was pro-Nashashibi and its Haifa branch was one of the largest in Israel. The building was guarded by Arab fighters and served as a forward position against the Jewish neighborhoods, so it was decided to occupy it first.

Nahal HaGivori (Photo: Yigal Greiber - Association for the History of Haifa)

The task is assigned to a platoon of 31 fighters from Battalion 22, under the command of Yitzhak Soroka "Tzach" (later a professor of civil engineering at the Technion), who received the operation order only two hours before and concentrated the fighters at the Teltash Hotel (later the Mount Carmel Hotel), which served as the brigade's headquarters . The fighters wear remnants of British uniforms, partially belted, without water hydrants and without personal bandages. Only the department medic has a water bottle. The platoon is armed with two Bren machine guns, 15 rifles, submachine guns and two hand grenades per soldier. At 12:30 they leave in two armored cars, with the intention of going directly to the Nejada house. There the armored personnel carriers will turn around and arrive in reverse in front of the entrance to the house, which was surrounded by a wall, and take down the fighters who will enter through a low hole in the wall and from there directly into the building and first occupy the roof and the third floor.

The first fighters who broke into the house captured the roof and the third floor as planned, and reported that the building had been cleared, so that the second half of the platoon entered without any fear. But there, on the second floor, an Arab fighter was hiding who shot and seriously wounded one of the fighters, Jimmy Caesar, and killed another fighter, Mordechai Vin. At the same time, heavy fire was also opened on the building from beyond the houses in the neighborhood, a fire from which one of the class commanders, Menachem Rave, was killed. The department remained besieged under fire, without water and food, and several rescue attempts were unsuccessful. Only the next day, at 15:00, after about 26 hours, the force was rescued with 4 dead and 6 wounded.

Part of the shooting at the Nejada house came from a building called "the semi-round house", which is located about 200 meters further down the street and from which several machine guns were fired. After a slow advance, this building was also occupied and the fighting on the eastern axis ended.

B. The western axis - "Beit Hori" and the Stairs of the Prophets:

On the Hadar-HaCarmel border and the Arab neighborhoods is "Beit Khouri" - a large stone house, built by a Lebanese businessman Salim Khouri who immigrated to Haifa in 1870. Salim built the building for his family, but in the 40s it was bought by the Jewish-owned "Maoz" company and leased to the railway management, which located its headquarters there (in the 70s the building was destroyed and the Tower of the Prophets was erected in its place). This building served as an Arab position on the seam between the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods and was staffed by Arab fighters.

The occupation of the building was assigned to the religious department of the 22nd Battalion, under the command of Yehoshua Brand, which numbered 30 fighters and was located in the workshops of the Technion in Hadar. The fighters wore civilian clothes, without belts, without wetsuits and without first aid equipment. The armament was English guns, "Stan" submachine guns, about 100 bullets and 2 hand grenades for each fighter. They left the Technion on foot, in the evening, and marched in the direction of Shmariahu Levin Street and the "May" cinema, with hundreds of residents standing on the sides of the streets and clapping their hands. Through the courtyards of Beit Toma they secretly advanced towards Beit Hori, where they were joined by another platoon under the command of Yehuda Kochva. 

22nd Carmeli Battalion (Haifa History Association)

Yehoshua Brand's division was also equipped with 3 round metal naval floats, which were filled with explosives, and they were rolled down the steps of the prophets to the Arab positions. The floats exploded with a tremendous noise, but did not cause any real damage. (There is also a version that these are naval mines). The fighters trying to break into Beit Hori encountered stubborn resistance from the Arab defenders (probably Iraqi volunteers) and part of the building was burned, contrary to the instructions to keep it intact. The battle continued until the morning hours. 5 fighters were killed and 6 were wounded.

At the same time as the fighting on Beit Hori, the second platoon advanced slowly and carefully towards the lower city, going down not on the exposed steps of the prophets, but from house to house, while breaking the walls between the houses. The platoon arrived at house number 11, the Hadrat Kodesh synagogue, which was deemed abandoned and without a fight. This synagogue, built in 1900, served as Haifa's main synagogue until the mid-30s, when the main synagogue was built on Herzl Street. In December 1947, due to the increase in violent events and its location, the synagogue was abandoned. From there, the fighters continue to advance from house to house towards Stanton Street (the day-to-day liberation), in the face of resistance and shooting from Arab snipers. They intend to reach the Allenby square (Allenby-Stanton intersection, HaHagana square today), where they were supposed to meet the Palmach force from the port.

At the end of 1947, about 1,600 Arab laborers and about 450 Jews worked at Haifa Port, while at night about 400 Arabs and about 40 Jews worked there. Due to the outbreak of the events, a platoon of the PALM (the naval PALM) of about 25 fighters with disarmed weapons was brought into the port, under the guise of "Solel Bona" workers. At the beginning of January 1948, after the massacre at the refineries, the force was increased to about 90 fighters and Yohai Ben-Nun took command of them.

The force of the 22nd Battalion succeeds in its mission and meets in the area of ​​the square with the PLAM unit. At the same time, the PLAM unit that came down from "Beit Borovsky" which was the extreme Jewish position of the Hadar neighborhood, through Stanton Street and the telephone exchange, also operated, and this unit also reaches Allenby Square. On that day, 18 of the "Haganah" fighters were killed in battles throughout the city.

The monument at the place of the ambush (Haifa History Association)

The negotiations for surrender and the attempts to prevent the escape of Haifa's Arabs

On the day of the battles, April 21 in the afternoon, it was clear that the "Hagana" had the upper hand. The next day, after a preliminary meeting with the Arab representatives in which they receive the draft of the Hagana's surrender document, General Stockwell calls a joint meeting between the Arab and Jewish representatives to sign the surrender agreement. The meeting takes place at 16.00:4 at the city hall, when the Arab delegation arrives accompanied by British armored personnel carriers. The "Haganah" issued an order to the forces in the field to cease fire. The Jewish delegation included the mayor Shabtai Levy, the secretary of the municipality Avraham Kalfon, the lawyer Yaakov Salomon, Mordechai Maklef, the chairman of the Hadar-HaCarmel committee Moshe Gut-Levin and 7 others. On the British side, General Stockwell, the governor of the district, Brigadier J. Venson and Cyril Marriott, Stockwell's political advisor. The Arab delegation consists of XNUMX people, including Victor Hayat, George Muammar, Farid Saad, Anis Nasser and Elias Khosa.

The Arab delegation receives the copy of the surrender document in English with ten clauses, including the surrender of all weapons and fighters. Stockwell tells them that they lost the battle and that the terms are fair. The Arab representatives demand an extension of 24 hours in order to consult with the Arab leadership in Damascus, since they do not have the authority to sign the agreement. Stockwell and the representatives of the "Haganah" refused, and finally it was agreed on another meeting at 19:00.

The Arab representatives gathered at the house of Victor Hayat and from there they called Damascus and then Beirut, and received an explicit order to leave the city. The Shia listened and recorded the conversations. At the next meeting, the Arab representatives rejected the terms of surrender, and the persuasive efforts of Stockwell and the Jewish representatives and promises of peace for the Arab residents were of no use either.

The escape of the commander of the city, the Lebanese officer Amin Ezz a-Din, the day before (21/4) and the escape of his deputy Younes Nafaa the following day, increased the panic among the Arab population and encouraged their escape. Announcements in Arabic on behalf of the "Haganah", the Histadrut and the Jewish Community Committee, guaranteeing the security of the Arab residents, were of no use either. Most of the approximately 35,000 residents who remained in Haifa until mid-April left the city with British assistance, mainly through the Haifa port. Arab municipal workers, sent by Mayor Shabtai Levy, stood at the entrance to the port and tried to convince the fleeing people to stay in the city, and also the dispatch of the Shia man Eliyahu Nawi "Daud al-Natour", who went around the Arab neighborhoods in a jeep and read in Arabic through a loudspeaker to the residents, did not By May 15, approximately 6,000 Arabs remained in Haifa, and this number also decreased thereafter.

Rushmia Bridge and Beit Hanjada (Haifa History Association)


The outbreak of violent events in Israel immediately after the partition vote at the United Nations did not pass over Haifa either, despite its uniqueness and sharing between the Jews and the Arabs. The Jewish population enjoyed advantages in all areas, an advantage that eventually led to its victory. The victory in Haifa and 3 days earlier in Tiberias, both of the largest mixed cities in Israel, contributed its part to the overall victory in the war and the establishment of the state. The Arab population in the city paid a heavy price due to the refusal of its leaders to understand the situation and to remain in the city. Before the outbreak of the events, the Arab population numbered approximately 70,000 inhabitants, while at the end of the fighting it numbered approximately 3,500 soul only.

Contact Chai here: At watsapBy email

Yigal Greiber
Yigal Greiber
Member of the Haifa History Association

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