Today in history: The battle of Haifa

Today in 1948, Haifa was occupied during the War of Independence.

Haifa was the largest and undoubtedly the most important city in the north; it was the main entrance gate of goods, and its industrial zone was one of the most important in the country. Demographically, its 140K residents were divided 50:50, Jews and Arabs. But geographically, it turned out that the Jews had a slight advantage: Most of the Jewish neighborhoods were newer and were built on Mount Carmel, while the Arabs lived in the Lower City and in the Vadis. In the first months of the war, each side took over its neighborhoods (the Jews also held the new commercial center and port area); tens of thousands of Arabs had already been evacuated from the fear of the Jews, but the Jews were afraid to attack from the fear of the British. In March, the Jews succeeded in attacking a large arms convoy on its way from Lebanon to Haifa, and in destroying it by eliminating Muhammad al-Khonitti, the leader of the Arab forces in Haifa. On 21 April, the British unexpectedly abandoned their positions on the seam line, and Jewish and Arab forces were quick to try to take over key positions. Both sides had about a thousand soldiers, but the Jews were better organized under the Carmel Brigade. During the British withdrawal, a division of the Haganah succeeded in taking over a key position in Wadi Rushima, and in the next day, an operation to join this position became an all-out assault on the southern Lower City.

The Jewish attack on the southern part of the lower city was accompanied by a massive bombardment, which led to a mass civilian escape through the port. At the same time, the Haganah began an attack on the north of the city – the Old City and the German Colony. The mass flight, along with news of the fall of Tiberias, led to the collapse of the Arab militias, and many of the military leaders also fled. With British mediation, the Arab city’s dignitaries came to a truce with the Haganah leaders, who ultimately decided on an Arab surrender and an agreement despite a Jewish military intervention that would ensure their continued stay in Haifa. But a few hours later, the dignitaries of the city changed their minds and decided to evacuate the city instead of singing the armistice (it is not clear whether after consultation with the Supreme Arab Council, or perhaps only for fear of its response), despite the British and local Jews’ opposition. By the end of April, only 5,000 Arabs remained in Haifa, with over 60K evacuated by sea to Lebanon, or by land to Samaria (most of them believing they would return to their homes after the war and the Arab victory). Many Arabs were “rushed” to leave by the Haganah, which was driving with a relatively hard hand. In the weeks following the conquest of Haifa, the Jewish community also took over the Arab villages in its vicinity, and its occupation can be considered a turning point jn the northern front.

Photo source: Wikipedia

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