Associated Press, May 6, 1948


The West Side Story, Part 3: From Bourgeois Comfort to Untenable Peril: The Emptying of the New City

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The situation in Palestine rapidly deteriorated starting in late 1947, with disastrous results for the Palestinians of the New City and Jerusalem generally. 

This Backgrounder chronicles the chaos that ensued as the country spiraled into civil war. The focus is on the lived experience of Palestinians and on the origins of Jewish West Jerusalem, and not on reconstructing a full history of the war. Those stories have been amply documented elsewhere.

Part 3 of a four-part series. View Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 4 here.

UN Vote for Partition Escalates the Violence to Civil War

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (II) which called for the partitioning of Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs.1 As for Jerusalem, the resolution called for the establishment of “a corpus separatum under a special international regime” to be administered by the UN via a Trusteeship Council.2 The proposed boundaries of the corpus separatum were far larger than the municipality of Jerusalem borders, including the surrounding villages and town of Abu Dis to the east, Bethlehem to the south, ‘Ayn Karim to the west, and Shu‘fat to the north (see Where Is Jerusalem?).

The Trusteeship Council was given five months to approve and implement the plan, outlining the statutes of the city which would include provisions for citizenship, governance, access to holy sites, security, legislative organization, economic order, freedom of transit and visit, and official languages, among others. The “special international regime” would come into force no later than October 1, 1948, two months after the expected British withdrawal from Palestine, and would remain in force for 10 years. Upon termination of the Trusteeship Council after 10 years, residents of Jerusalem would be allowed to modify the city’s statutes through a referendum.3

The UN Partition Plan proposed a special international status for Jerusalem.

Map of UN Partition Plan for Palestine, adopted November 29, 1947

Map of UN Partition Plan for Palestine, adopted November 29, 1947. The areas allocated to the Arab state are shown in orange, those to the Jewish state, in blue, and the corpus separatum for Jerusalem in white. Note that Jerusalem lay in the heart of the Arab state. Jaffa was designated an Arab enclave in the Jewish state. The proposed UNSCOP boundary is shown in green. 



Expecting a surge in Jewish immigration to Palestine following the Holocaust, and with a referendum in sight, the Jewish Agency agreed to the plan. After all, more Jewish voters would swing the vote in favor of including Jerusalem in the Jewish state.4 For their part, the Arabs rejected the plan, viewing it as biased toward the Jews. According to the partition plan, the Jewish state would comprise 54 percent of Palestine, with a Jewish population of 55 percent; as a result, Arabs would comprise 40 percent of the total Palestinian Arab population, subjecting them to minority status within a Jewish state.5

As a result of the November 29 partition plan, the very next day, fighting between Zionist militias and Palestinian Arab forces escalated, and spread in and around Jerusalem. Resolution 181 (II) was thus never implemented, and civil war broke out in late 1947 through the first half of 1948.

To protest the resolution, the Arab Higher Committee called Palestinian Arabs to go on a three-day strike. On the first day of the strike on December 1, 1947, Jerusalem’s Arabs participated in a militant demonstration that led to burning and looting Jewish-owned stores in the New City, especially in the Mamilla district. While some sources argue that British soldiers were indifferent, others claim that they actively participated in damaging the stores while using gunfire. Palestinian attacks also consisted of sniping at Jewish vehicles on the road leading from Jaffa into Jerusalem.6

Although the rioting in Mamilla was considered to be spontaneous, the Irgun and the Stern Gang (Lehi), another armed and extremist Zionist paramilitary group which splintered off from the Irgun in 1940 because it sought more intense armed resistance against the British, responded with lethal force. In response to the Mamilla rioting, Zionist militias targeted several neighborhoods and villages around Jerusalem, including Romema and Silwan. In addition, the Irgun orchestrated two bombings outside the Old City near the Jaffa and Damascus gates, killing dozens of Palestinian Arabs.7

As a result of the November 29 partition plan, the very next day, fighting between Zionist militias and Palestinian Arab forces escalated.

A Jewish taxi is set ablaze by Arab Palestinians near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, December 29, 1947

A Jewish taxi is set ablaze by Arab Palestinians near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, Palestine, on December 29, 1947, after Jews shooting from a taxi assassinated 15 persons, among them 12 Arabs, 2 British constables and a Jew.


Associated Press

An Arab bus is peppered with shrapnel holes after two anti-personnel bombs explode near Damascus Gate, December 13, 1947

An Arab bus is peppered with shrapnel holes after the explosion of two anti-personnel bombs in a teeming section of Jerusalem near the Damascus Gate, December 13, 1947. The bombs killed 6 Arabs and injured 41.


Jim Pringle, Associated Press

Five Jews carried out a car bomb attack by Jaffa Gate on January 7, 1948

Five Jews carried out a car bomb attack by Jaffa Gate on January 7, 1948. The car managed to drop two barrel bombs before police and soldiers shot at it, causing it to crash into the wall of the Muslim cemetery on Mamillah Road. Shown here, one of the five attackers in grave condition is carried by a British policeman and an Arab from the cemetery. Eighteen people, mostly Arabs, were killed in the attack.


Associated Press

This situation rapidly spiraled into open warfare. Members of the Arab League understood that the Palestinian Arabs who lived in the vicinity of Jewish communities, as they did in the western neighborhoods of the New City, faced grave danger. The League thus established a committee to aid their defense following Britain’s decision to withdraw from Palestine in October 1947.

To be sure, the fighting in the city was not balanced; Zionist forces had a trained army that was well equipped with modern military weapons, including firearms and tanks, thanks to direct British support. The Palestinian Arabs, who had suffered greatly from systemic British oppression of their political resistance during the Great Palestinian Revolt of 1936–39 and thereafter, faced the war unprepared, with no trained soldiers or funds, little access to modern weaponry, fragmented leadership,8 and no national military organization. Rather, most of the fighters were from local militias belonging to various Arab towns and villages throughout the country.9 As Abdullah al-Budeiri, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who was a soldier, said: “We expected the partition vote to fail and had made no preparations for war.”10 This indicates the extent to which the clashes between the Zionist and Arab forces were imbalanced, especially in the western corridor of the New City.

The main Palestinian Arab force in and around Jerusalem in 1948 was Jihad Muqaddas, an irregular force led by ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini, which commanded an estimated 380 men in the city itself, and another estimated 250 in the rural areas.11 In addition, there were about 100 to 150 fighters from the Arab League-sponsored Arab Liberation Army, as well as volunteers of the Manko Company, a contingent of irregulars financed by Haj Ibrahim Manko. They formed a force of about 1,000 fighters in the Jerusalem area, with the assistance of individuals who fought in part-time troops.12

By contrast, and only eight days after the partition vote, the Haganah had mobilized a full-time force of 500 men and women, most of whom had received military training. By May 1948, the Haganah had some 2,750 troops in Jerusalem alone, indicating that Zionist paramilitary troops had already been preparing for war. As Hagit Shlonsky, who was recruited by the Haganah while still in high school in Jerusalem, recalled: “We were prepared for a war . . . We were sure that the Arabs who surrounded us would attack and that we would have to defend ourselves.”13 Many Haganah soldiers had also served in the British army during World War II; others had received special training in guerrilla tactics and night fighting.14

Headshot of Palestinian Jerusalem leader ‘Abd al-Qader al-Husseini

‘Abd al-Qader al-Husseini was a Palestinian Jerusalemite who led the irregular Jihad Muqaddas force. He is pictured here on February 16, 1948, about two months before his death.



That the Haganah was rapidly mobilized was also no doubt due to the highly organized Jewish community across Palestine which had, by the 1940s, laid “the infrastructure of a state within a state, or a state in embryo,” according to Israeli historian Benny Morris. Morris continues:

By 1947, in addition to the Haganah, the Yishuv had a protogovernment—the Jewish Agency for Palestine—with a cabinet (the JAE), a foreign ministry (the agency’s Political Department), a treasury (the agency’s Finance Department), and most other departments of agencies and governments, including a well-functioning, autonomous school system, a taxation system, settlement and land reclamation agencies, and even a powerful trades union federation, the Histadrut, with its own health service and hospitals, sports organization, agricultural production and marketing agencies, bank, industrial plants, and daily newspaper and publishing house.15

An armed Arab volunteer stands guard near Upper Baq‘a, in Jerusalem’s New City, 1948

An armed Arab volunteer stands guard near Upper Baq‘a, in Jerusalem’s New City, the scene of much heavy fighting for many days, on January 19, 1948.


Associated Press

While tensions had been high for years between the Arabs and Jews of Jerusalem, there was arguably more to Zionist preparations for war than fear of Arab attacks. As with most nationalist movements, Zionist leaders indoctrinated Jews in the idea that the nation came first. Tikva Honig-Parnass, who was a 17-year-old student at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University in 1947, recalled that she and a friend voluntarily enlisted in the Haganah on campus; “enlisting was the culmination of everything I had been brought up to believe in,” she said. “We had fought to achieve what we had, it was now in danger, and it was up to me to protect it.”16

The terror of 1948

Zionist attacks on Arab neighborhoods increased dramatically in the months preceding the declaration of the State of Israel in May 1948. One attack that shook the residents of Qatamon was the bombing of the Semiramis Hotel. Suspecting that the Christian, Arab-owned hotel was used as a headquarters of the local, ad hoc guard force of Arab residents that had been formed in self-defense in the wake of escalating hostilities following the UN Partition Plan, the Haganah planted bombs there late during the stormy night of January 5, 1948. The explosion destroyed the eastern wing of the hotel, killing 26—mostly family members of the hotel owners, but also a Spanish diplomat—and injuring dozens.17 The bombing was decried by the British government as a “dastardly and wholesale murder of innocent people.”18


Personal Story The End of Arab Qatamon—A Memoir

A vivid memoir attesting to what it was like to live through the violent transformation of the New City of Jerusalem into West Jerusalem in 1947–48

The Semiramis Hotel in Qatamon with its eastern wing destroyed following an attack by the Haganah on January 5, 1948

The Semiramis Hotel in Qatamon, seen here with its eastern wing destroyed following an attack by the Haganah on January 5, 1948. The search for the dead went on for days.


Getty Images

The Semiramis Hotel attack and others like it were largely orchestrated both to preempt any Arab capability for self-defense and to intimidate and scare the Arabs enough to leave the New City (as elsewhere in Palestine). In this case, the attack had precisely this effect. The Semiramis Hotel bombing put the whole neighborhood on edge and triggered a wave of departures in search of safety, as observed by Hala Sakakini in Jerusalem and I. The morning after the bombing, she wrote: “Today, from early morning, we could see trucks piled with furniture passing by. Many more families from Katamon are moving away, and they are not to blame. Who likes to be buried alive under debris?!”19

Bio Hala Sakakini

A Palestinian educator and writer who wrote an iconic, vivid narrative recounting her family’s exile from Qatamon and Jerusalem in 1948

The explosion put the whole neighborhood on edge and triggered the first wave of departures in search of safety.

Such attacks were soon directed by a larger military strategy. Plan Dalet, as it was known, was a controversial military strategy, created by the Haganah in March 1948, with the ultimate aim of securing a Jewish state throughout Palestine, of merging Jerusalem with it, and of expelling Palestinian Arabs.20

While not the first such plan (it was based on three previous plans, dating back to 1945), it was the final one meant to deliver the state:

Plan Dalet: Operations and Their Objectives

  Operation Start date  Objective Outcome 
1* Operation Nachshon April 1, 1948 To carve out a corridor connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and by so doing to split the main part of the Arab state in two Defeated
2* Operation Harel April 15, 1948 A continuation of Nachshon but centered specifically on Arab villages near Latrun Defeated
3 Operation Misparayim April 21, 1948 To capture Haifa and rout its Arab population Successful
4* Operation Chametz April 29, 1948 To destroy the Arab villages around Haifa and so cut Jaffa [designated as an Arab enclave in the Jewish state] from physical contact with the rest of Palestine as a preliminary to its capture. Successful
5* Operation Jevussi/ Yevusi April 27, 1948 To isolate Jerusalem by destroying the ring of surrounding Arab villages and dominating the Ramallah-Jerusalem road to the north, the Jericho-Jerusalem road to the east, and the Bethlehem-Jerusalem road to the south. This operation by itself would have caused the whole of Jerusalem to fall and would have made the Arab position west of the Jordan altogether untenable.  Defeated
6 Operation Yiftach April 28, 1948 To purify eastern Galilee of Arabs Successful
7 Operation Matateh May 3, 1948 To destroy Arab villages connecting Tiberias to eastern Galilee Successful
8* Operation Maccabi May 7, 1948 To destroy the Arab villages near Latrun and by an outflanking movement to penetrate into Ramallah district north of Jerusalem Defeated
9 Operation Gideon May 11 To occupy Beisan and drive away the semi-sedentary Bedouin communities in the neighborhood Successful
10 Operation Barak May 12 To destroy the Arab villages in the neighborhood of Bureir on the way to the Negev Partially successful
11* Operation Ben Ami May 14 To occupy Acre and purify western Galilee of Arabs Successful
12* Operation Pitchfork May 14 To occupy the Arab residential quarters in the New City of Jerusalem Successful
13* Operation Schfifon May 14 To occupy the Old city of Jerusalem Defeated

The single asterisks above indicate the operations which were carried out before the entry of the Arab regular armies inside the areas allotted by the UN to the Arab state. It will be noted that of 13 specific full-scale operations under Plan D 8 were outside the area given by the UN to the Zionists.

Source: Entire table and note cited verbatim from Walid Khalidi, “Plan Dalet, Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies 18, no. 1, Special Issue: Palestine 1948 (Autumn 1988): 4–33. Khalidi based his summary on a translation from the Hebrew original Sefer Toldot HaHaganah [History of the Haganah], vol. 3, edited by Yehuda Slutsky (Tel Aviv: Zionist Library, 1972).

The 13 operations laid out in Plan Dalet and their outcomes

“Plan Dalet” or “Plan D” was the name given by the Zionist High Command to the general plan for military operations within the framework of which the Zionists launched successful offensives in April and early May in various parts of Palestine. These offensives, which entailed the destruction of the Palestinian Arab community and the expulsion and pauperization of the bulk of the Palestine Arabs, were calculated to achieve the military fait accompli upon which the state of Israel was to be based.21

As several historians have noted, Plan Dalet was ultimately a strategy of ethnic cleansing, whereby Haganah forces would ensure the “destruction of both rural and urban areas of Palestine.”22 British Mandate authorities largely turned a blind eye to the violence.

A number of Zionist military operations were launched with the aim of taking Jerusalem and its environs, both before and after the declaration of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. Indeed, as David Ben-Gurion stated at a meeting of the Mapai (Land of Israel Labor Party) Council on February 7, 1948: “In many Arab districts in the west one sees not a single Arab. I do not assume that this will change.”23 Detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this backgrounder, but some of the more important ones in the Jerusalem arena included Operations Danny, Kedem, Nachshon, Harel, Yevusi, Ha Har, Maccabee, Shififon, and Kilshon. These are only the operations related to this area of the country; others were targeted elsewhere (see BOX: Plan Dalet: Operations and Their Objectives).

In the New City, which was to become West Jerusalem, the overall effect of these multiple lines of attack over many months was to render the city unlivable, with limited access to basic necessities. Critically, only one main road led through the outlying hills into the city. The Arabs, with their many villages scattered along the road to the west, many on high ground, were very effective at blockading this road in the early months of the year, preventing supply convoys from getting to the city and thereby threatening the city’s Jews. Heavy Palmach numbers also became tied up with guarding the supply convoys.

Interactive Map British Mandate Jerusalem (1917–48)

An interactive map of Jerusalem during the period of the British Mandate

Despite the heavy guard, there were frequent ambushes.24 In March 1948, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini and his troops in the Jihad Muqaddas, and with the assistance of villagers, managed to ambush Jewish convoys to Jerusalem arriving from the west, effectively blocking their access to the city.

The biggest ambush of the war occurred on March 27, when three dozen supply trucks were waylaid by thousands of armed villagers from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron and were ambushed and trapped for 24 hours until a British armored column came to their rescue.25

Al-Husseini and his troops also attacked Jewish civilians in the city, and throughout February and March, killed dozens of Jews in car and truck bombs at the offices of the Palestine Post newspaper (February 1–2; 1 killed, 20 wounded), outside the Atlantic and Amdursky hotels on Ben Yehuda Street, which housed Palmach forces (February 22; 58 killed, 32 seriously injured), and in the National Institutions Compound, targeting the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund (March 11; 12 killed, 10 wounded).26 By late March, al-Husseini and his troops had effectively laid siege to Jewish Jerusalem, depriving Jews of food, water, and basic services.27

Car bomb explosion on Ben-Yehuda Street in Jerusalem's New City on February 22, 1948

Car bomb explosion on Ben-Yehuda Street in the New City on February 22, 1948



Car bombing of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem on March 11, 1948

On March 11, 1948, an American-born Armenian who worked as a driver for the American consulate drove up to this building, which housed Jewish governmental council offices in the city. He was allowed entry, parked the consular vehicle, and walked away. Moments later, the car bomb exploded ripping away this section of the wall.


Tom Fitzsimmons, Associated Press

The following are more examples from the local press at the time of the violence that spread across Jerusalem, especially in the New City, and which caused many to flee. Filastin newspaper details an attack carried out by Zionist forces on the Arab neighborhood of Qatamon in the New City on March 11, 1948. It describes how the Zionists used the weather conditions to their advantage, and opened fire using modern military weaponry to attack civilian houses:

A large group of Jewish criminals opened fire using different types of weapons. They also threw a number of cylinder bombs in order to cover the infiltrators who planted a mine in a car park in the three-story house of Mr. Thuraya al-Budeiri. The mine exploded, and the larger part of the house was demolished. Moreover, they planted another mine in the house of Mr. Abdullah Muna, who had only recently finished the construction of his three-story home, destroying its rear wing. As for the two houses mentioned, when the crimes took place, they were empty of people.28

On March 11, 1948, al-Difa‘ newspaper described the disheartening feeling of the Palestinian Arabs toward their Jewish neighbors after being attacked by Zionist groups from the nearby neighborhoods:

A group of Jewish traitors infiltrated Qatamon neighborhood from the locality of Rehavia and the settlement of Mekor-Haim in the early hours of yesterday morning. They were separated. The first group started shooting, while the second group succeeded in setting explosions in two houses owned by wealthy owners, Thuraya al-Budeiri and Abdullah Muna, located in Qatamon. The explosions caused them great losses.29

In the New City, which was to become West Jerusalem, the overall effect of these multiple lines of attack over many months was to render the city unlivable.

Fighting in the middle of the night was a common tactic, as reported frequently in newspapers. On March 11, 1948, Filastin described another invasion in the western corridor of the New City when the Zionist militias again used the proximity of the Jewish and surrounding neighborhoods to attack the neighboring Arab community. The Arab community was caught off guard in the middle of the night:

At midnight, the Jewish burglars in the colony of Mekor Ha-Ayin opened fire on the village of Beit Safafa, and the village’s protectors declined to reciprocate, anticipating the actions of the army commander of that area against the initiators of the shooting, but none came, and so the members of the Jewish gangs crawled in the direction of the village under the criminals’ gunfire from the colony. At that time, the village’s protectors had no other option but to defend themselves, so they fought back until the aggressors were forced to flee.30

The fighting documented in newspapers from the time reveals a picture of strategic thinking and well-orchestrated military operations on the part of the Zionist militias. They used the proximity of the nearby Jewish neighborhoods to the wealthy Arab ones to plan their attacks, often in the dark of night.

Palmach forces invade the Jerusalem neighborhood of Qatamon during Operation Yevusi

Palmach forces invade Qatamon during Operation Yevusi. The elite fighting force of the Haganah, the Palmach, was formed in May 1941. During Operation Yevusi, the Palmach had four objectives: to capture the Arab village of al-Nabi Samwil, the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Qatamon, and Augusta Victoria Hospital east of the Old City.



Indeed, Filastin detailed how the attack on Qatamon unfolded on March 11, 1948, by beginning with the hour of night:

Around 11:10 p.m., a group of Jewish gang members infiltrated from the Rehavia and Kiryat Shmuel neighborhoods into the cordoned area, indicating that they cut off the wires adjacent to the Jewish neighborhoods. It was stormy with heavy rains at that time, and as they were infiltrating the neighborhood, there was a blackout. It is believed that this was not just a coincidence, rather a conspiracy.31

In another instance of Zionist strategizing, and regarding the March 11 attack on Qatamon, Filastin described the attacks of Zionist militias as follows:

The Jewish criminals carried a number of different mines eager to blow up other houses. However, the National Guard spoiled their sinister plot, as they fired back and got into clashes with exchange fire, and kept harassing the aggressors until they were forced to leave carrying their dead and wounded with them and their number was not known. The fights continued through after midnight. Another group of aggressors tried to infiltrate from different sides but the National Guard defeated them on their doorstep.32

The Palestinian Arabs on the receiving end of these attacks were terrified and increasingly considered leaving. Hala Sakakini, a resident of Qatamon and the daughter of Khalil Sakakini, a Palestinian scholar, educator, and teacher who was a central figure in the community, describes how people would come to their house to pass the tense evening hours together in solidarity. In her detailed memoir, she describes one such evening, March 13, 1948:

We . . . were all sitting in the dining room when an explosion took place. It was followed by shooting, so we all ran for safety to the hall. The firing was so strong everybody’s nerves were on edge and we all began ordering each other to take safer positions in the hall. Then two more loud explosions shook our house and we guessed that they were very near. Fadwa Sfeir [a relative] was almost panic-stricken, so we hurriedly took our coats and some blankets and ran downstairs where we stayed cold and shivering until things began to quiet down around midnight . . . when it had calmed down a little, our neighbours . . . joined us . . . and shared our bottle of cognac with us. Shooting did not cease until morning. It was a terrible night. Today, from early morning, we could see trucks piled with furniture passing by. Many more families from Katamon are moving away, and they are not to blame. Who likes to be buried alive under debris?! The defense system of Katamon is just miserable and no one of the responsible people is doing the slightest thing about it. If strong security measures are not taken immediately, our turn of leaving our home will come soon. We cannot be expected to wait empty-handed for the Jews to come and blow us up.33

These events led to more waves of departures. The Sakakinis, however, stuck it out to the bitter end, leaving on April 30, only days before the neighborhood fell.34

While the different newspaper articles indicate an unprecedented level of strategizing on the part of the Zionist militias, they also suggest British forces’ deliberate disregard for the aggression. In another incident that took place in March 1948 in Beit Safafa, Filastin reported the intervention of the British officers only when the Arab troops fired back at the Zionist aggressors:

When the stationed soldiers felt at that point that the wicked Jews’ attack was a catastrophic failure, and that the Arab militants have reached the doors of the colony after it narrowed down on them, [British soldiers] went out of the alleged neutrality, and instead of directing their fire toward the instigators of the aggression, they directed it toward the Arab defenders.35

Another instance of Arab neighborhoods being targeted while British security personnel looked aside was reported on April 17, 1948, in Filastin:

Bad Jewish gang members have assaulted al-Qatamon neighborhood more than once . . . They have caused varying damages to a number of houses, including a first-aid center . . . In all these attacks, neither the soldiers nor the police were quick to intervene as is customary when the Jews were defeated . . . Despite all this, the Jews of the nearby neighborhoods of Rehavia and Kiryat Shmuel have sought help from the army, which initiated the dispatch of artillery units to that Jewish side from which the crime was set . . . Should we understand from this measure that the government’s neutral army stands on the side of the aggressors??36

The question raised above had been answered days before on April 14, when the same newspaper documented the fighting in Sheikh Jarrah, describing how the British troops opened fire on the Arab fighters:

A hundred and twenty Jews wounded in the battles of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. Ten Jewish armored vehicles were targeting the fire of the Arab heroes and their artillery shells for eight hours in a row. The “neutral” British Army intervenes with its shields and tanks and fires 150 mortal shells on fighters. Criminal Jews direct their fire toward the Egyptian, Syrian, and Lebanese consulates in Rehavia.37

The Battle of al-Qastal

The Battle of al-Qastal, which took place in the Palestinian village of al-Qastal, located on the Jaffa-Jerusalem road west of Jerusalem, was a critical turning point for the Palestinians. Due to its strategic location, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini and his troops used the village as a base from which to attack Jewish relief convoys.38 During Operation Nachshon, which lasted for nearly two weeks in the first half of April, 1948, Palmach and Haganah forces invaded the village and laid siege to it on April 3. Most of the village’s inhabitants had already fled.39

Days later, on April 7, al-Husseini and his troops attacked and besieged al-Qastal. That night was foggy and during the ongoing fighting, al-Husseini was killed by a Haganah soldier. The following day, al-Husseini’s troops recaptured al-Qastal; however, the death of their leader resulted in an overall loss of morale among the fighters of Jihad Muqaddas.40 Over the course of April 8-9, Palmach forces managed to retake al-Qastal. They demolished most of the houses of the village, turning it into a command post for the remainder of the war.41

Husseini's funeral took place on April 9, at the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a major event that drew his men away from their positions. This was the very same day as the Deir Yasin massacre.

The Battle of al-Qastal on March 31, 1948 before it was captured by the Haganah

The Battle of al-Qastal, as shown on March 31, 1948, nine days before the village was captured by the Haganah


Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The coffin containing ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini, Jerusalem district commander of the Arab Liberation Army, April 9, 1948

The coffin containing the body of ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini, Jerusalem district commander of the Arab Liberation Army, is borne on shoulders of his bodyguards during his funeral at al-Aqsa Mosque, attended by more than 20,000 mourners on April 9, 1948. He was buried in the vicinity of the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem next to his father, Musa Kazim al-Husseini, a former mayor of Jerusalem.


Bettman Archives via Getty Images

Deir Yasin

Arguably the most well-known of Zionist militias’ orchestrated attacks on Palestinian Arabs was the Deir Yasin massacre of April 9, 1948. As part of Operation Nachshon, the Irgun and Lehi planned an attack on the village, though its residents had made an agreement with the Haganah in February that their lives would be spared in exchange for their readiness to collaborate with the Haganah.42 While residents of Deir Yasin upheld their end of the bargain and drove out an Arab military group that had tried to use the village as a base, 130 Zionists from the Irgun and Lehi stormed the small village just west of Jerusalem and massacred 100 Palestinian Arabs, including 31 children and 14 elderly individuals.43

The commander of the Irgun forces, Ben-Zion Cohen, described that the pre-attack agreement among the Zionist forces was the “liquidation of all the men in the village and any others found that opposed us, whether it be old people, women and children.”44 Evidently, David Shaltiel, commander of the Haganah, sent a memo to the leaders of the Irgun and Lehi indicating his knowledge of their plan to invade the village. In the memo, he said: “I have no objection in you carrying out the operation provided you are able to hold the village.”45 As a result, the Haganah provided the Irgun and Lehi with rifles and grenades to conquer the village completely, forestalling the need for returning to the village at a later time.

In an interview with Israeli director Neta Shoshani for her documentary, Born in Deir Yassin, Ben-Zion later recounted that shortly into the soldiers’ initial entry into the village, crawling on their stomachs under cover of darkness, suddenly dogs began barking, shouting erupted and he got shot in the knee. At that point, he told Shoshani, he gave an order to “take the gloves off.”

He continued: “Then I said, there’s no woman, no man. [We’re] blowing up as many houses as possible, and killing anyone who shoots. Approach the building, lay the explosives, activate them, fall back, blow up the building with all its inhabitants after they’ve opened fire. Immediately after the explosion, we go, because they’re in shock, and the first thing is to [shoot] bursts right and left.”46

Though many conflicting accounts exist regarding the details of the operation and the number of Palestinians killed, the Deir Yasin massacre was undoubtedly gruesome and seminal in the war. Meir Pail, a member the Haganah forces, recounted that, after parading a group of 25 men who survived the massacre through the streets of Jewish-held Jerusalem, the Irgun and Lehi forces “put them in a line in some kind of quarry, and shot them.”47 Zionist forces also evidently poured gasoline over the bodies of the victims of the village and set them on fire. Many in the Haganah also distanced themselves from the massacre, recognizing it as “an inhumane, terrible act by the right wing.”48

In retaliation, Palestinian Arab fighters attacked a Jewish convoy on its way to Hadassah Hospital on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus on April 14. The convoy was ambushed in Sheikh Jarrah, directly north of the Old City, and it included doctors, nurses, Irgun fighters wounded at Deir Yasin, and Haganah escorts. By the end of the ambush, 77 Jews, including 40 medical staff, were killed. Another 14 Arabs were shot dead during the attack.49

The Deir Yasin massacre was a pivotal point in the 1948 violence as it escalated armed conflict between Arabs and Jews, driving many more Palestinians to flee in fear. Indeed, following the massacre, the Haganah radio station repeatedly menaced the Arabs of Jerusalem by declaring, “Remember Deir Yasin,” and delivering messages in Arabic by loudspeaker vans such as: “Unless you leave your homes, the fate of Deir Yasin will be your fate.”50 The massacre also impelled neighboring Arab states to intervene, which they did weeks later.

The combined effect of the death of al-Husseini and the widely proclaimed and terrifying Deir Yasin massacre created a turning point in the war.

Video Deir Yassin Village and Massacre

A firsthand recounting and reconstruction of a landmark trauma in Palestinian and Jerusalem history, the Deir Yassin massacre of April 9, 1948

Bullet-riddled cactus (sabr) in the village of Deir Yasin just outside Jerusalem, 1948

Bullet-riddled cactus (sabr) in the village of Deir Yasin just outside Jerusalem where 100 Palestinians were massacred by Irgun and Lehi (Stern) forces on April 9, 1948. 


Associated Press

The Deir Yasin massacre was a pivotal point in the 1948 violence.

Demographic Shifts, Depopulation, and the Loss of the New City

Beyond military strategy, Zionist forces sought to maintain a demographic advantage over the Arabs in Jerusalem. To prevent evacuation of Jewish neighborhoods in the New City, Zionist leaders in Jewish neighborhoods bordering Arab ones forced sanctions on Jewish residents, demanding that those who fled continue to pay local taxes. They also refused to accept responsibility for property left behind. Other forms of preventing Jewish abandonment included providing aid to those who remained by organizing food stores.51

Despite these moves by the Zionist leadership to maintain the Jewish presence in the city, the escalation in the security situation forced many Jews to leave their homes as well. For example, during the spring of 1948, Shimon Ha-Tsedek neighborhood, which bordered Sheikh Jarrah, was almost completely emptied of its Jewish inhabitants. Jewish residents of Talbiyya and in the northern corridor of Qatamon also fled their homes. At the same time, similar shifts occurred in the Arab communities and neighborhoods that bordered Jewish areas.52

A house in Qatamon destroyed during Operation Yevusi, an attack by the Haganah in the 1948 War

Throughout the spring and summer of 1948, Zionist forces invaded Palestinian neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem, including the city’s affluent neighborhoods. This house in Qatamon was one of those destroyed during Operation Yevusi, an attack by the Haganah which lasted two weeks, from April 22 to May 3.



Jewish neighborhoods of southern Jerusalem were also soon evacuated, and by March 1948, the neighborhood of Mekor Chaim was emptied and became a fortified Haganah outpost. By then, the majority of the Jewish population of Arnona, Talpiyot, and North Talpiyot had evacuated their residences. By mid-May, Kibbutz Ramot Rachel was evacuated.53 In the center of the city, too, most of the residents of Yemin Moshe evacuated their homes. To be sure, following the war and the establishment of the State of Israel, these Jewish communities were allowed back to their residences, while Jerusalem’s Palestinians remain in exile to this day.

The large number of Jews leaving the city was alarming to the Haganah, and while it could not force them to remain, it could put pressure on the Arabs to leave. To do this, the Haganah threatened Arab neighborhood leaders with posters, notes, and phone calls; they also raided Arab neighborhoods to sever phone lines and electricity wires, threw hang grenades, and fired live ammunition into the air.54

Destruction of Urban Life

The destruction of Palestinian urban life was a crucial aspect of the 1948 War. Around one third of the Palestinian refugees of 1948 were urbanites. Among them, between 25,000 and 30,000 were inhabitants of the New City who had little choice but to flee their homes from January through May 1948.55

The few available accounts of Palestinians’ flight from the New City are consistent: residents left in a great hurry, out of fear, and without taking much of anything. They were certain they would soon return. As former mayor of Jerusalem Hussein al-Khalidi informed the mufti of the city on January 13, 1948: “The position here is very difficult. There are no people, no discipline, no arms, and no ammunition. Over and above this, there is no tinned food and no foodstuffs. The black market is flourishing. The economy is destroyed . . . This is the real situation, there is no flour, no food . . . Jerusalem is emptying out.”56

The dire economic situation also derived from the abrupt ethnic separation between the two populations, separating workers from employers and goods from the markets upon which they had previously relied. Arab public transportation ground to a halt. Unemployment skyrocketed. By the end of April, all the Arab banks were closed.57

Between January and March 1948, almost all of the wealthy Arab families of Palestine—approximately 300,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem, Haifa, and other coastal villages—had left the country. The remaining Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, and especially in the Old City, severed communication.58

The Capture of Qatamon and al-Baq‘a

The neighborhood of Qatamon was strategically located on a hill in the New City; it lay at the center of Zionist plans to conquer Jerusalem. In the weeks leading up to their invasion of Qatamon, Zionist forces targeted it with heavy artillery to scare its residents. On April 22, the Palestinian National Committee of Jerusalem ordered that all women, children, and elderly people be relocated from the area. On April 30, Zionist forces invaded Qatamon, and in three days of battle, killed 150 Arabs and drove out the rest. Widespread looting of Arab homes ensued, and some survivors even watched from a nearby neighborhood as their homes were robbed and their valuable possessions taken forever.59

Ghada Karmi describes her family’s departure from Qatamon:

On the final morning [in April 1948], my mother packed only a few summer clothes for us into a couple of small cases, since we would soon be back, she said. All our belongings, papers, documents, family photographs and mementos—our whole history—were left behind. As the taxi came to take us away—probably the last car which dared to make the dangerous journey to Qatamon—I remember being gripped by a sudden feeling of gloom, as if I knew that when we drove away it would be for the last time. And so indeed it was.60

A supply convoy reaches the outskirts of Jerusalem, passing by Lifta, approximately April 20, 1948.

A supply convoy reaches the outskirts of Jerusalem, passing by Lifta, approximately April 20, 1948. It was the first to reach the city in a long while, after the siege was broken.



Hala Sakakini was among the very last to leave Qatamon with her family on April 30, 1948. She relates:

At twelve o’clock (the usual hour), not long after our visitors [Abu Dayyeh and Abu Ata] had left us, the attack on Katamon began. It was stronger than ever. The firing was heavy and continuous and it sounded so very near all of us thought that the Jews had reached our street. Every one of us deep down in his heart feared that before morning we would all be dead. When at last morning came the firing had not ceased. It went on and on, loud and strong. At about half past five, as I was standing on Sari’s porch (which is protected by sandbags) I saw Abu Ata who had come to use our telephone, as no other telephone in the whole [of] Katamon is working. We asked Abu Ata about the situation and he said that everything was all right and that they were only short of certain bullets. After a while, however, Abu Dayyeh himself arrived in our square. He was nervous and shouting. We understood from him that everything was not all right at all. The Jews had come in very large numbers and they were trying to surround Katamon and besiege it. Already fifteen of our fighters had been killed and thirty wounded. The Arab [Transjordanian] soldiers in the Iraqi Consulate came running across the Consulate grounds to the fence along our street to offer their services to Abu Dayyeh. He began to give them orders.61

At six o’clock the next morning, they loaded up their car and left for Cairo, never to return. It bears mention that the entire house, including her father’s extensive library, was looted and lost in the aftermath of the war, like many others.

With the capture of Qatamon, Zionist forces were able to take the remaining Arab neighborhoods of the New City. Al-Baq‘a fell on May 16, one day after the establishment of the new State of Israel. Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout, whose father was Ajaj Nuwayhed, the renowned Palestinian orator, scholar, and translator, and who later went on to marry the founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Shafiq al-Hout, recalled her family’s departure from al-Baq‘a:

April 26, 1948, was the last day I spent at our home in Jerusalem. My father had finally made the decision to send us to Lebanon to visit family and stay for a while until the situation calmed down.

Transportation was not easy to secure then due to a shortage of petrol, so my brother Khaldoun left the house early in search of a car that would take us to Amman. Meanwhile the rest of us—my father, mother, sisters and I—waited for him with our luggage.

“The car is at the gate,” my brother announced on returning. “Did you make sure the driver has enough gas?” my father asked. “Yes,” Khaldoun replied. “And did you tell him I would be coming back to Jerusalem with him after we reach Amman?” “Yes, I did.”

That was it. We left, just like that. Many neighbors had gone before us, wondering why we were staying in Jerusalem when we had family and a home in Lebanon. I remember one neighbor, Sitt Zakiyyah, shedding bitter tears as she lamented to my mother, “I’ll be all alone, Umm Khaldoun, I’ll be the only one left,” while my mother tried to reassure her that we would be back in just a few weeks.62

Residents left in a great hurry, out of fear, and without taking much of anything.

The San Simon monastery in Qatamon was held by local Arab fighters with Arab Legion and Iraqi volunteers in the 1948 War

The San Simon monastery in Qatamon was held by local Arab fighters with volunteers from Iraq and the Arab Legion. Palmach forces began the assault with mortars and machine guns, and were joined by other Zionist forces of the Harel and Etzion brigades. The attack on the monastery lasted all day on April 30, and ended with two large explosions orchestrated by the Zionist forces. Qatamon was captured shortly thereafter.



Haganah troops on patrol the streets of now completely emptied Qatamon on May 6, 1948

Haganah troops on patrol the streets of now completely emptied Qatamon on May 6, 1948, two days after they took the neighborhood at the end of a continuous three-day battle. The original caption for the photo, written at the time, notes that “all the former residents have departed.” The destroyed building in the back to the left is the Semiramis Hotel, bombed by Haganah forces four months earlier.


Jim Pringle, Associated Press

As the neighborhoods empty out, the looting intensifies

As soon as Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, Zionist forces and Jewish civilians alike took part in massive looting, which continued for months. John Rose, an Armenian resident of Jerusalem who stayed in al-Baq‘a after it fell to the Zionists, described that in June 1948:

Our movements were restricted but Jewish residents from the western suburbs and elsewhere were allowed to circulate freely. During this time looting of Arab houses started on a fantastic scale, accompanied by wholesale vindictive destruction of property . . . From our verandah we saw horse-drawn carts as well as pick-up trucks laden with pianos, refrigerators, radios, paintings, ornaments and furniture . . . Safes with money and jewelry were pried open and emptied . . . Our friends’ houses were being ransacked and we were powerless to interview . . . This state of affairs continued for months.63

The looting and pillaging were so rampant, Israeli historian Adam Raz writes, that they “spread like wildfire” among Israelis in the first months following the establishment of the state in May 1948.64 Across Palestine, tens of thousands of Palestinian homes, stores, and factories were raided and emptied of their contents. This included, “mechanical equipment, farm produce, cattle … pianos, books, clothing, jewelry, furniture, electrical appliances, engines and cars.” To collect all this loot, Yair Goren, a resident of Jerusalem in 1948, explained that “men, women and children scurried hither and thither like drugged mice.”65

Moshe Salomon, commander of a Zionist military unit in 1948 Jerusalem, wrote in his diary about this disturbing phenomenon that gripped the looters: “We were all swept up by it, privates and officers alike. Everyone was seized by a craving for possessions. They rummaged through every house, and some found food, others found expensive objects. The mania attacked me, too, and I was barely able to stop myself.”66

David Werner Senator, a senior administrator at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, described what he saw in 1948: “These days, when you pass through the streets of Rehavia, you see everywhere old people, young folk and children returning from Katamon or other neighborhoods with bags filled with stolen objects. The booty is diverse: refrigerators and beds, clocks and books, undergarments and clothing. What a disgrace the Jewish robbers have brought on us, and what moral ruin they have brought on us!”67

Senator was not alone in his disapproval of the looting. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the second president of Israel, wrote a letter to Ben-Gurion on June 2, 1948, deploring what was happening in Jerusalem: “I cannot remain silent about the robbery . . . Robbery has become a general phenomenon . . . Everyone will agree that our thieves fell upon the abandoned neighborhoods like locusts on a field or an orchard.” And on July 24, 1948, Ben-Gurion relayed the following words during a meeting of Mapai: “It turns out that most of the Jews are thieves . . . I say this deliberately and simply, because unfortunately it is true.”68

Dov Doron, a Jewish soldier who partook in the battle in Jerusalem, offers the following testimony regarding the 12 days he and his fellow troops spent in the city:

“Everyone was seized by a craving for possessions.”

Moshe Salomon, commander of a Zionist military unit in 1948 Jerusalem, writing in his diary

We turned a mahogany closet into a chicken coop and we swept up the garbage with a silver tray. There was chinaware with gold embellishments, and we would spread a sheet on the table and place chinaware and gold on it, and when the food was finished, everything was taken together to the basement. In another place, we found a storeroom with 10,000 boxes of caviar, that’s what they counted. After that, the guys couldn’t touch caviar again their whole life. There was a feeling on one hand of shame at the behavior, and on the other hand a feeling of lawlessness. We spent 12 days there, when Jerusalem was groaning under horrible shortages, and we were putting on weight. We ate chicken and delicacies you wouldn’t believe. In [the headquarters at] Notre Dame, some people shaved with champagne.69

Raz explains that the looting was both deliberate and political.70 Often, the looters personally knew the Palestinian Arabs whose homes they were looting. In some cases, they were their neighbors. Raz explains that this looting was “allowed to proceed apace with no interference” by state authorities due to political ideology. The plundering, Raz goes on, “was a means to realize the policy of emptying the country of its Arab residents . . . with a vested interest in not allowing them to return.”71



Jewish Israelis looting the depopulated homes of wealthy Palestinians in Musrara neighborhood, northwest of the Old City, in 1948

Jewish Israelis looting the depopulated homes of wealthy Palestinians in Musrara neighborhood, northwest of the Old City. The state settled poorer Jewish immigrants from North Africa in these homes.


Tarek Bakri

Jewish Israelis looting the depopulated homes of Palestinians in the village of ‘Ayn Karim, west of Jerusalem.

Jewish Israelis looting the depopulated homes of Palestinians in the village of ‘Ayn Karim, west of Jerusalem. The village was depopulated in July 1948. It was one of the few Arab villages that suffered little physical damage to its residents’ homes during the war. The Israeli state populated the homes with lower-income Jewish immigrants, many of whom were from North Africa.

[The plundering] “was a means to realize the policy of emptying the country of its Arab residents . . . with a vested interest in not allowing them to return.”

Adam Raz

Cultural erasure

Looting or destroying Palestinians’ possessions was one way of ensuring their erasure from West Jerusalem. Confiscating and archiving their books in Israel’s National Library was another. As early as April 25, 1948, following the Haganah’s Operation Nachshon in Jerusalem, which led to the emptying of several of the New City’s Palestinian neighborhoods, the director of the National Library, Curt Wormann, wrote a letter to senior administrators at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in which he spoke of “the book collection operation” that would ensue following the capture of the New City.72

Qatamon fell on May 1, followed by Talbiyya and al-Baq‘a on May 14. Subsequently, on June 10, Senator of the Hebrew University forwarded a memorandum written by Wormann to the Jewish Agency titled: “Regarding the Urgent Need for a Central Authority Which Would Have Custodianship over Abandoned Public and Private Libraries and Books.” In the memo, Wormann described that this central authority would be the National Library, because it “has the means to keep the books in proper conditions, as well as to return them to their lawful owners, should such owners appear.”73 Approximately 30,000 books were confiscated from what became West Jerusalem within the nine months after the war. Palestinian private book collections and libraries across Palestine were similarly confiscated, and their owners have since not been allowed to appear in order to reclaim their properties.

Israeli historian Gish Amit describes the overarching ideological and practical considerations behind the new state’s book confiscation campaign:

Video The Great Book Robbery

The story of how Palestinian homes in Jerusalem (and elsewhere) whose owners fled in search of temporary safety were systematically looted, including their libraries, even before the war had ended

The collection of Palestinian libraries illustrates the dialectical complexity of the far-reaching changes of the period: the operation was simultaneously an act of exclusion of Palestinians from the national collective, defined as solely Jewish, and a realization of Zionism’s self-conception as a cultural agent whose moral mission was to bring enlightenment to this outpost of Europe at the margins of the Middle East. In addition to reflecting the ideas of the Jewish Enlightenment, the book collection project also echoed the European justification for transferring to Europe the intellectual and cultural assets from their colonies abroad: these properties were to be salvaged in the interests of humanism and universalism in the political context of a national struggle for culture and heritage.74

Approximately 30,000 books were confiscated from what became West Jerusalem within the nine months after the war.

The new Israeli nation-state, therefore, took it upon itself to salvage these books as part of a long-standing European humanist and universalist tradition. Amit adds that the quantitative benefits to the campaign were undeniable: the National Library suddenly acquired tens of thousands of books in multiple languages.

In early 1949, the newly created office of the Custodian of Absentee Property took possession of the books, since they were considered movable absentee property. For years, Arabic-speaking students and staff at the Hebrew University and the National Library catalogued these books, a challenging process since determining the authors of the thousands of confiscated private documents and letters was nearly impossible in the absence of the owners.

Sorting looted books at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the wake of the 1948 War

Sorting looted books at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the wake of the 1948 War


Starting in the 1960s, and under the supervision of the Custodian’s office, 6,000 of these books and documents were revisited and simply labeled with the initials “AP” for “absentee property,” instead of the original authors’ names.75 As Amit put it, “it is this designation that appears to this day on the books’ covers and in the National Library’s computerized catalogue.”76 And ironically, these 6,000 books are much more easily found in the library’s catalogue; the remaining 24,000 are much harder to identify without the “AP” in the call numbers.77

The reason why the office of the Custodian decided to remove the owners’ names from many of the books is unknown. However, the decision to eliminate “the unique and nonduplicable memory of human beings,” as Amit put it, occurred during a period in which the Israeli state was erasing Palestinians irreversibly. In 1965, he explains, “the Israel Land Administration began an operation in which over 100 deserted Arab villages were razed to ‘clean up’ the country and permanently prevent Palestinians from returning to their homes.” He concludes that the reason behind erasing Palestinians’ names from their books and the razing of Arab villages was “deliberate and premeditated”; it rendered “the outcome of the war a final, irreversible reality.”78

Today, “the ‘Abandoned Property’ books in Palestine remain under the control of a government unwilling to return them to their owners,”79 and equally unwilling to allow their owners to return home.

Beyond the City, the Villages Are Also Depopulated and Destroyed

Beyond the city, Zionist forces depopulated 40 Palestinian villages surrounding Jerusalem.80 Many of these villages were also destroyed by Zionist forces, particularly in the second half of 1948.81

In total, approximately 28,000 Palestinian villagers were expelled from villages surrounding Jerusalem, particularly to the west of the city. The village land totaled 250,000 dunums.82

As opposed to urban refugees, the majority of rural Palestinians expelled from their villagers ended up in Jordan; about a third continue to live in West Bank refugee camps. It is believed that the presence of UNRWA services in Jordan drove many to settle there.

Short Take Palestinian Villages Depopulated in 1948

An inventory of Palestinian villages in the Jerusalem area pre-1948 and their erasure and replacement

Villagers evacuating Qaluniya (Colonia), a village on the Jaffa-Jerusalem highway targeted by Zionist forces

Villagers evacuating Qaluniya (Colonia), a village 6 km from Jerusalem on the Jaffa-Jerusalem highway. Qaluniya was one of the main targets of Operation Nachshon. Palmach units attacked the village on April 11, 1948, just two days after the massacre at Deir Yasin. They blew up all the houses and left the village on fire. 


Getty Images

British Withdrawal, the End of the War, and the Division of Jerusalem

Britain’s planned exit from Palestine on May 14 was preceded by UN intervention. In late April, the Trusteeship Council of the defunct November 29, 1947, Partition Plan, proposed to either place Jerusalem under international trusteeship or to manage the city with a UN force of 1,000 officers.83 While the Arabs refused this plan since it tacitly recognized partition, on May 7, they agreed to a truce in Jerusalem. When the Jewish Agency rejected the proposal for a truce, the UN imposed an immediate cease-fire, which lasted a few days. And despite many more efforts by UN representatives to have the Jewish Agency agree to a truce, Zionist forces continued with their plan of overtaking the New City.

The Zionists were aided by British forces in Jerusalem, who allowed them to secure strategic positions throughout the New City. The Villa Harun al-Rashid in Talbiyya, which was the command base for the Royal Air Force, was occupied by the Haganah on May 14. This strategy of Zionist forces sweeping in following British withdrawal was common in the final days of British presence in Palestine. British forces did nothing to stop them.84

In the afternoon of May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared “the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called Israel.” And at midnight on May 14, the new State of Israel declared its independence from Britain. In the end, the demographic, legal, political, and economic changes implemented by “Britain” throughout its 30-year rule in Palestine transformed the country permanently.85

The . . . changes implemented by “Britain” throughout its 30-year rule transformed Palestine permanently.

Indeed, the repercussions of three decades of British rule in Palestine, which ensured the increasing segregation of Jewish communities and the rise of anti-Arab Zionist violence, meant drastic changes for Jerusalem and its New City. The declaration of the State of Israel signified the effective division of Jerusalem between east and west—the former Arab, and the latter now Jewish. The west side of Jerusalem, once home to thriving and cosmopolitan Palestinians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, transformed into an exclusively Jewish and decidedly anti-Arab section of the city, now under Zionist Israeli control.

As part of a deliberate Zionist strategy to keep them away, the Palestinians of Jerusalem’s New City have, to this day, never been allowed to return to their homes. Indeed, the policy has its origins in the very establishment of the State of Israel. On June 16, 1948, and in response to calls by members of Israel’s Mapam Council to allow Palestinian refugees from Jaffa to return, Ben-Gurion declared: “We must prevent at all costs their return.”86 The ways in which the new state secured Palestinians’ permanent dispossession and exile are detailed in Part 4.


Nadim Bawalsa and Kate Rouhana of the Jerusalem Story Team collaborated on the research, writing, and editing for this Backgrounder. 

Shahrazad Odeh, formerly with Jerusalem Story, worked on an early version of this Backgrounder.



United Nations, “Resolution 181 (II): Future Government of Palestine,” November 29, 1947.


United Nations, “Resolution 181 (II).”


Nathan Krystall, “The Fall of the New City 1947–1950,” in Jerusalem 1948: The Arab Neighbourhoods and Their Fate in the War, ed. Salim Tamari (Jerusalem and Bethlehem: Institute of Palestine Studies and Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, 2002), 86.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 86.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 88.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 88.


Rashid Khalidi, “The Palestinians and 1948: The Underlying Causes of Failure,” in The War for Palestine, 2nd ed., ed. Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 12–36.


Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 89.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 89.


Walid Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948 (Beirut: The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1971), 859–60.


Calculations arrived at by Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 90, based on data collected by Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest, 858–60.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 90.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 90.


Morris, 1948, 84.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 90.


Michael Palumbo, The Palestinian Catastrophe: The 1948 Expulsion of a People from Their Land (Ithaca: Olive Branch Press, 1991), 98.


“Blowing Up of a Jerusalem Hotel: Government’s Denunciation of Hagana’s Deed,” Guardian, January 7, 1948, 5 (via


Hala Sakakini, Jerusalem and I: A Personal Record (Jerusalem: Commercial Press, 1987), entry of March 14, 1948, 115.


Walid Khalidi, “Plan Dalet: Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies 18, no. 1 (1988): 4–33.


Khalidi, “Plan Dalet.”


Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006), xii.


Benny Morris, “Yosef Weitz and the Transfer Committees, 1948–49,” Middle East Studies 22, no. 4 (1986): 1.


Morris, 1948, 108.


Morris, 1948, 110.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 91; Morris, 1948, 107–8.


Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities (New York: Pantheon, 1988), 43.


“A Crime in the Dark Night in the Qatamon: Beit Safafa Fights Back against the Traitorous Attack” [in Arabic], Filastin, March 11, 1948 (retrieved from the National Library of Israel). All contemporaneous newspaper accounts from the Arabic press at the time are translations rendered by Shahrazad Odeh, a former Jerusalem Story researcher.


“Clashes in al-Qatamon, Jerusalem, and Near Beersheba” [in Arabic], al-Difa‘, March 11, 1948 (retrieved from the National Library of Israel).


“A Crime in the Dark Night.”


“A Crime in the Dark Night.”


“A Crime in the Dark Night.”


Sakakini, Jerusalem and I, March 14, 1948, 115–16.


Sakakini, Jerusalem and I, April 30, 1948, 121.


“A Crime in the Dark Night.”


“Army Cannons Aimed at al-Qatamon” [in Arabic], Filastin, April 17, 1948 (retrieved from the National Library of Israel).


“120 Wounded Jews in the Battles of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem” [in Arabic], Filastin, April 14, 1948 (retrieved from the National Library of Israel).


Morris, 1948, 123.


Walid Khalidi, All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992), 311.


Morris, 1948, 125.


Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 234–235.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 96.


Walid Khalidi, Dayr Yasin: 9 April 1948 [in Arabic] (Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1999), 127.


Palumbo, The Palestinian Catastrophe, 47.


Dan Kurzman, Genesis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War (Boston: Da Capo Press, 1992), 173.


Ofer Aderet, “Israeli Commander of Massacre at Palestinian Village Dies,” Ha’aretz, October 19, 2021.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 99.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 99.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 100.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 100.


Arnon Golan, “The 1948 Wartime Resettlement of Former Arab Areas in West Jerusalem,” Middle Eastern Studies 51, no. 5 (2015): 805.


Golan, “Wartime Resettlement,” 805.


Golan, “Wartime Resettlement,” 805.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 92.


Salim Tamari, “The City and Its Rural Hinterland,” in Jerusalem 1948, 51–79.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 94.


Morris, 1948, 97.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 95.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 102.


Ghada Karmi, “Leaving the Lemon Tree,” The Tablet, April 25, 1998.


Sakakini, Jerusalem and I, April 30, 1948, 121.


Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout, “Evenings in Upper Baq’a: Remembering Ajaj Nuwayed and Home,” Jerusalem Quarterly 46 (2011): 15–16.


John Rose, Armenians of Jerusalem: Memories of Life in Palestine (London: I.B. Tauris, 1993), 200.


Aderet, “Jewish Soldiers and Civilians.”


Aderet, “Jewish Soldiers and Civilians.”


Aderet, “Jewish Soldiers and Civilians.”


Aderet, “Jewish Soldiers and Civilians.”


Aderet, “Jewish Soldiers and Civilians.”


Adam Raz, Looting of Arab Property during the War of Independence (Jerusalem: Carmel Publishing House), 2020.


Aderet, “Jewish Soldiers and Civilians.”


Amit, “Salvage or Plunder?”


Amit, “Salvage or Plunder?”


Hannah Mermelstein, “Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s ‘Absentee Property’ of 1948,” Jerusalem Quarterly 47 (2011), .


Amir, “Salvage or Plunder?”


Mermelstein, “Overdue Books.”


Amir, “Salvage or Plunder?”


Mermelstein, “Overdue Books.”


Number of villages determined based on research conducted by Zochrot, and by Salman Abu-Sitta in Salman Abu-Sitta, The Palestinian Nakba 1948 (London: Palestinian Return Centre, 1998), cited in Tamari, “The City and Its Rural Hinterland,” 79.


See Rochelle Davis, Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), for in-depth discussions of these villages.


Data based on research conducted by Zochrot, and by Abu-Sitta, The Palestinian Nakba 1948, cited in Tamari, “The City and Its Rural Hinterland,” 79.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 104.


Krystall, “The Fall of the New City,” 106.


Government of Palestine, A Survey of Palestine: Prepared in December 1945 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry (Jerusalem: Government Printer, 1946), 185.


Benny Morris, “Falsifying the Record: A Fresh Look at Zionist Documentation of 1948,” Journal of Palestine Studies 245, no. 3 (1995): 44–62.

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