On the morning of March 11, 1948, I walked along King George Avenue in Jerusalem and soon came to a heavily barricaded street block guarded by a number of armed British soldiers.
It was the entrance to the British security zone. I stood there for a few moments looking at the Jewish Agency building and at the children who were playing in a nearby garden, babies asleep in their carriages.
As I began to walk back only a few minutes later, an explosion rent the air and shook the earth. For a moment I was paralyzed with shock. A huge column of smoke and dust rose from the place I had just left. After a moment of suspended life, streams of humanity poured from all the buildings into the streets, as if drawn by a magnet, rushing toward the vicinity of the explosion. The atmosphere was charged with a sense of calamity.
The overstrained nerves of a people living constantly under the shadow of death were severely tried. Women wept, men’s faces were pale. Cars raced through the streets, hooting loudly and urgently; all the traffic flying toward the scene of disaster.
Before long some of the motor traffic was on its return journey to first-aid posts and hospitals. I saw wounded, bloodstained men and women in cars, on stretchers, conscious and unconscious. Backward and forward raced the cars, the ambulances, the people. Questions were being asked in the street, opinions exchanged.
“The Jewish Agency building!”
“How is it possible?”
“The streets are so guarded!”
“This is the work of the Arabs!”
“Many are killed and wounded!”
Some British army lorries passed through the streets carrying soldiers. Guns were pointed toward the people. The atmosphere was tense. Only three weeks before, British army lorries had entered Ben Yehuda Street (a popular street perpendicular to King George Avenue).
On my way to my room, I passed the square on Ben Yehuda Street, where buildings had been reduced to a mass of wreckage and surrounding houses stood like grim skeletons, their naked frames exposed. This square was now known by a new name, an English name—Bevin Square. Even in Tel Aviv, the all-Jewish city of Palestine built up within the past twenty years, the main street was named Allenby Street and the main square Balfour Square—all English names. A tribute to England and the spirit of Englishmen, whose help had made the creation of the city possible. And now they were another of Israel’s potential menaces.
A Sabbath Day
I was awakened at dawn by a strange medley of sounds. The voice of a man singing, calling out in prayer to his Creator. The loud reports of guns accompanied his prayers. I opened the shutters of my window, and the first rays of the morning sun, spreading a misty glow over the city, entered my room and filled it with light. From the roof of a torn and twisted building came the joyful song of birds—it was spring! Gunfire, prayers, birdsong! A Sabbath morning in the holy city! Destruction, faith, hope!
There were many who filled the synagogues to pray; many who beat their breasts and sang prayers of lamentation and supplication; many who shed tears of anguish and despair; parents who wept for their children—those children behind the guns whose shooting accompanied the chanting of their elders.
At midday it was quiet again; the sun was shining brightly. The shops were closed. The streets were filled with men and women resting from the labors of the week. The children were playing in the streets, in the gardens, in the squares. I walked through the streets wherever it was possible to walk—the safety area was very restricted. I ventured to the end of a road from which I could see the hills, risking the danger of sniping from those very hills. I longed to see, just for a moment, a different picture from that which had been before me ever since I had arrived in Jerusalem—rubble, wreckage, barricades, distress.
The soft colors of the hills were accentuated by the silvery green shapes of the distant olive trees and warm-tinted sandy paths around the hills. Nearby was an almond tree in blossom, its tender beauty full of the fresh hope of spring. Delicate clouds floating across a very blue sky seemed to capture some of the rosy flush of the flower petals. I drank deeply of all that beauty, a reminder that the work of God was still visible on the earth.
I turned my steps back to the safety area. A volley of shots broke in upon my thoughts: machine guns, mortars—loud, frequent, and urgent. The shots were fired into the heart of the city. The crowds in the streets ran to take shelter; children screamed and bent low on the ground. Some streets could not be crossed. The firing was incessant and dangerous. I could not return to my room because shots were being fired into the surrounding streets. I took refuge in the entrance of a building together with many others. For half an hour there was no pause. Then I took advantage of a quiet interval to run across the danger area and finally reached my room.
It was now the end of the Sabbath day. The shooting continued, noisily and treacherously. The sun had disappeared behind the hills; darkness covered the crimes that were being perpetrated. I carried within my heart the memory of the softly tinted hills, the blue sky, the tender almond blossom. And I looked into the future with the hope that a Sabbath day would dawn when birdsong and the voice of mankind would be mingled together, singing in praise and thanksgiving; when the sound of shooting would no longer be heard in the holy city nor in any other part of the world.
Source: First Fruits of Zion