On November 8, 1921 Rabbi Mintzberg wrote: “Thank G-d we survived the uprising that took place in the Holy City (in April 1920). May Hashem have mercy on us in the future. As we sat in terror, my mind conjured up the statement of Chazal in Kesubos 111a: ‘If you keep the oath, good; but if not I will permit your flesh like the gazelles and deer of the field.’ And one of the oaths is that we should not push off the end of exile through our sins, or according to another version of the text, that we should not force the end. It seems that this is the cause of all the troubles from which the Jewish people is suffering now. Our blood and our flesh are ownerless. Still, we may take comfort in the hope that the gentile nations’ end is near since they have oppressed the Jewish people too much, in violation of their oath.”
Rabbi Mintzberg (left) and Rabbi Ben Zion Chazan (right) with Jordanian soldiers at the surrender of the Old City.
On the first day of the war, May 15, 1948, Ben-Gurion immediately gave the order to the Haganah to capture Jerusalem, the Old and New City, which the UN had designated as an international zone. David Shaltiel, commander of the Haganah in New Jerusalem, figured that would not be too hard, provided that the Jordanian army did not mix in. They would have to fight only the local, poorly armed Palestinian militias.
Furthermore, the Haganah would have a free hand to import arms to Jerusalem, because the Arab Liberation Army – a group of volunteers funded by the Arab states, under the leadership of Fawzi el-Kaukji – had abandoned their positions on the slopes of Latrun. These slopes overlooked the road to Jerusalem, and as long as an Arab army was there, it was impossible for the Zionists to bring any arms or food to Jerusalem. But now the ALA had received orders from the Arab Higher Committee to leave and make room for the regular Arab armies to invade.
Had the Zionists been smarter, they would have positioned their men on the Latrun slopes at this point, while they were still unoccupied.
In the Old City of Jerusalem, the local Palestinian militias fought against Haganah troops in the Jewish quarter. In a short time, the Palestinians captured a good part of the quarter. The religious Jewish inhabitants of the Old City, numbering about 1700 at that time, begged the Haganah to surrender, saying, “Save our lives and surrender. We have lived for many centuries in peace with the Arabs. If you surrender we can continue to live here and enjoy that peace.” But the Haganah commander in the Old City, Moshe Russnak, only radioed Shaltiel for help.
Rabbi Yisroel Zev Mintzberg, Rabbi Ben Zion Chazan and Rabbi Mordechai Weingarten sent a surrender message to the Arabs. But the Haganah was not ready to surrender. Perhaps Shaltiel would help, and besides, the Arabs had run out of ammunition.
The Arabs of Jerusalem called King Abdullah in Amman for help, but Abdullah did not want to break his promise to the British, who were his mainstay. Finally, a few days into the battle, Abdullah relented and gave orders to Major Abdullah El-Tell to take Jerusalem. John Glubb, who was higher in the chain of command, had not really wanted a war, but at this point he had no choice. He quickly stationed his men on the Latrun slopes to besiege Jerusalem.
El-Tell conquered the Jewish quarter of the Old City house by house, synagogue by synagogue. on Friday, May 28, Rabbi Ben Zion Chazan decided that he must surrender to the Jordanians, even at the risk of his life. He emerged from his synagogue holding a white flag. The Haganah immediately opened fire on him, wounding him in the leg. Eventually, however, Russnak told his forces not to kill the old rabbi. Rabbi Chazan, Rabbi Weingarten and a Haganah representative came to El-Tell to sign the surrender document. All men were taken prisoner, and women, children and elderly people were sent to the New City. Leaving Old Jerusalem for the last time, the Jews probably thought to themselves how different things would have been if the Zionists had accepted the UN plan and not tried to conquer the city.
Rabbi Weingarten and El-Tell at the surrender of Jerusalem
Rabbi Ben Zion Chazan waving the white flag.