Another Tack: The first day (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By SARAH HONIG 04/27/12)
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‘It is with great joy that I hereby close the Mandatory Police record
book,” wrote an anonymous duty officer at Tel Aviv’s central precinct
precisely as David Ben-Gurion recited the renascent Jewish state’s
Declaration of Independence.
Just below that spontaneous hand-inscribed historic annotation,
appears the first criminal entry ever in sovereign Israel’s annals.
It documents the capture of a thief. He stole a book, perchance
pointing to preferences peculiar to the People of the Book.
Several hours later, the first ship docked in the new state. It began
its journey furtively five days earlier in Marseilles when Israel was
still under British rule. Its 300 young passengers were outfitted
with fake IDs, forged at the Hagana “laboratory” in France.
But the Teti would claim special distinction – it became
simultaneously the last “illegal” aliya boat and the first legal one.
The counterfeit visas proved superfluous. The vessel proudly hoisted
the Israeli flag as the new day dawned. Because it was the Sabbath,
the newcomers were issued their new country’s entry permits only at
With such seemingly ordinary bureaucratic yet emotionally charged
tasks, the Jewish state adeptly began the business of self-
determination. In time that would be presented to world opinion as
inherently sinful. By its very brazen determination to be born, it
would be asserted, Israel had displaced the Palestinians, condemning
them to miserable refugee subsistence.
According to the Arab narrative, Jewish independence, in and of
itself, constitutes aggressive belligerence. Incredibly, this
perception sank sinister roots. It takes stronger hold abroad now
than it did 64 years ago. We may speculate why. We may point to two
millennia of merciless anti-Jewish hate-mongering on religious and
other mundanely lucrative grounds. But whatever the motive, our
legitimacy, alone among the nations, is undermined assiduously.
Expediently forgotten is the fact that never, not for a single
solitary day, were Israelis allowed to savor the elation of their
newfound freedom. Behind the aforementioned two matter-of-fact
exemplars of sovereignty, a frightening reality festered malevolently.
Israel’s birth was legally ordained via the UN Partition Resolution
of November 29, 1947. Two states – Jewish and Arab – were to be
established between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Jews
cheered the patchy territorial crazy-quilt they were accorded,
existentially untenable though it was, and proceeded to meet all UN
prerequisites for independence. The Arabs vehemently rejected the
offer of a Palestinian state and, in vituperative defiance of the UN,
set out to destroy the embryonic Jewish state rather than construct
one of their own.
On Israel’s first day, Arab League secretary-general Abdul-Rahman
Azzam Pasha, articulated Arab priorities. Sending forth seven Arab
armies to slay the newborn “Zionist entity,” he declared: “This will
be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be
spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.” The Arab
agenda and intentions were unmistakable. New Israel’s citizens
harbored no misconceptions.
The Arabs had already violently opposed the Jewish community which
existed in this country pre-WWII and which was ripe for statehood
before the Holocaust. The “Great Arab Revolt” of 1936- 39 – fomented
by the stillrevered Haj Amin al-Husseini and financed by Nazi
Germany – merely delayed Jewish independence. The Arabs denied asylum
here to desperate Jewish escapees from Hitler’s hell. Thereby they
doomed these refugees to death. The blood of numerous Holocaust
victims indelibly stains Arab hands.
But that’s not all. Husseini, in the role of pan-Arab prime minister,
spent the war years in Berlin, where he hobnobbed with Hitler,
Himmler, Eichmann, et al. He broadcast Nazi propaganda, recruited
Muslims to the SS and actively foiled the rescue of any Jews, even
children, during the Holocaust.
The Arabs of this country were avidly pro-Nazi, saluted each other
with Heil Hitler, flaunted the swastika, hoarded arms, harbored
German spies and planned to heartily welcome Rommel’s invading Afrika
The war that the entire Arab world launched against newborn Israel,
three years post- Holocaust, was explicitly geared to complete
Hitler’s unfinished mission. Not only was there no attempt to
camouflage this genocidal goal, but it was broadcast boastfully for
all to hear and be intimidated. Clearly Israeli independence was
fraught with the most extreme and tangible danger.
Hence no fanfare could conceivably accompany the official
inauguration of the state, and with good reason. Independence was to
be proclaimed at 4:00 p.m. on the 5th of the Hebrew month of Iyar,
which in 1948 fell on May 14. The venue – Tel Aviv Museum’s tiny
auditorium on 16 Rothschild Boulevard, in what previously was the
home of the city’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff – was no one’s top
choice. Jerusalem was besieged, while Tel Aviv’s Habima Theater was
ruled out precisely because it was bigger and could accommodate more
Even a marginally larger affair was reckoned undesirable for fear
that publicity about when and where the Jewish state’s birth is
slated to be announced would invite Egyptian air strikes. It was,
therefore, thought advisable to keep everything hush-hush, make do
with fewer honorary guests and cram them all into a minuscule hall
(although the secrecy was quickly breached anyhow, in keeping with
The invitation (including a request to keep it confidential) was
mimeographed and sent unsigned. The declaration itself was placed for
safekeeping in a bank’s basement vault, lest it be destroyed by enemy
bombardments. These indeed came, just hours afterward, at daybreak
(of May 15, 1948).
As Israel’s masses danced in the streets on the night that followed
the declaration of independence, Abdullah I, King of Transjordan
(this brainchild of British imperialism now parades under the moniker
of Jordan) positioned himself dramatically at the center of Allenby
Bridge over the Jordan River. At the stroke of midnight, he pulled
his ornate gilded pistol from its holster, held it up in the air and
fired to signal the start of the Arab invasion. Its aim was to
ethnically cleanse the land –or as it was then phrased non-too-
diplomatically, to “throw the Jews into the sea.”
Israel’s thwarting of the genocide plotted against its people is now
presented as a premeditated Israeli-instigated ethnic cleansing of
Arabs. The capacity of the human mind to tolerate falsification
cannot apparently be underestimated.
The battle plans called on the Jordanian-led Arab Legion, the Iraqis,
Syrians and Lebanese to converge on the Jezreel Valley and from there
move in a concerted offensive on Haifa. The Egyptians were assigned
to take Tel Aviv from the south, with Yemeni and Saudi participation.
But hubris caused deviations. Abdullah coveted Jerusalem and the
Syrians focused on the Jordan Valley.
Still, the Arab generals who drew up the blueprints for neonatal
Israel’s annihilation figured it would take two weeks to complete the
job, deviations notwithstanding. They had compelling reason for
The infant state, assaulted ferociously from every direction and
furiously fighting for its very life, possessed no resources or
military hardware. Its population of 600,000 also comprised the old,
the infirm and the very young – all hardly combat-worthy.
But these noncombatants nevertheless became the enemy’s primary
targets. For three days, from May 15, Tel Aviv was mercilessly bombed
by the Egyptian Air Force. Spitfires swooped down on the very section
of Tel Aviv, where the Teti was moored. The first aerial pounding
lasted three days. Its worst came on May 18 when the central bus
terminal was bombarded, killing 41 civilians in only that one
incident, wounding hundreds of others, inflicting severe damage in
the heart of town and even hitting Tel Aviv’s beloved double-decker
The Egyptian planes were back two days later. They would hound Tel
Aviv well into late July. Fifty Tel Avivians were killed between July
13 and 16. Hadassah Hospital was among the targets, as were queues of
shoppers – housewives and children. Even the Red Cross complained
about “indiscriminate bombing of non-military targets.”
Hot on the heels of independence, the makeshift Israel Air Force
challenged Egyptian pilots for supremacy of the skies. This, despite
the fact that the IAF was assembled from an improvised mishmash of
light civilian aircraft requisitioned from or contributed by their
owners and precariously adapted for military purposes.
A curious assortment of outmoded and surplus WWII planes – as well as
prewar antiques – were additionally acquired, mostly from
Czechoslovakia. Israel’s air fleet was more than anything powered by
ingenuity and sheer pluck –like the rest of the IDF.
Because its ragtag army stood its ground, despite the worst of odds,
Israel is today accused of the crime of surviving and is portrayed as
a menacing ogre for having dared to come into the world rather than
But it wasn’t without a terrifying price. Besides the hundreds of Tel
Aviv’s casualties, the entire country bled profusely. The Old City of
Jerusalem fell to Abdullah’s legionnaires on May 29 (the 1967 Israeli
reversal of the Jordanian conquest is now dubbed “occupation”). The
attempts to open the bottleneck blockade on the road to Jerusalem at
Latrun loomed as young Israel’s most painful failure of the War of
The British had turned their hilltop Taggart Fort at that crucial
junction to the Arabs who used it to besiege Jerusalem with an eye to
emptying West Jerusalem too of its Jews.
When the War of Independence was finally over a year-and- a-half
later, Israel mourned 6,000 dead, a full one-percent of the fledgling
state’s population. But perhaps the most tragic sacrifice – alas,
hardly atypical for that era – was epitomized by the Teti’s
passengers. Many of them gave their lives for their country just one
week after arriving on that fateful first day of independence.
The next morning they made their way to the encampment at Tel Aviv’s
Kiryat Meir (at the end of today’s Zeitlin Street) where they
enlisted in the IDF. Most – fresh off the boat, with Holocaust
horrors still fresh in their minds – ended up in the Alexandroni
Brigade and Division 7, which were dispatched to Latrun. The
battlefield training they received consisted of a few instructions,
generally incoherent to them, on the way to the front line. (© 1995-
2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/27/12)
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