IDF No. 76440
The group I traveled with went from New York to Marseilles via Le Havre and Paris, and onwards to a Displaced Persons camp called Grand Arenas. There, we were given new identities and waited for the time we would make the final leg of our journey to Palestine.
That time came three weeks later, in the middle of the night, when we were all put on a boat designed for 250 people. There was roughly a total of 1,200 people aboard, almost all Holocaust survivors, except for the crew and the volunteers. The significance of such a journey cannot be underestimated, since the differences and similarities between the passengers became so acute. Here were over one thousand survivors from the terrors of Nazi Europe heading to a Jewish homeland, where they would be safe at last, accompanied by a small group of ex-servicemen from the USA, Britain, and Canada, many of whom had served in the armies that defeated Hitler and were now choosing to risk their lives once more. The one similarity which explained their presence on the ship was the fact that we were all Jews and wished to share in the common destiny of the Jewish People.
“I was able to speak to them in Yiddish .They told me about what had happened to them, about what they had lived through. They knew where they were going, but they were surprised to learn about us, and the fact that we had come because we wanted to. I had a home, a family. ‘Why are you here?’ they asked. I told them, I was Jewish. With a name like Abe Levine, I couldn’t be anything else. I told them I considered them as my cousins, almost my family, and what they had gone through was a lot worse than what we had experienced.”.
The British were still in Palestine, which in theory made landing a problem. But, in fact, this passed off without incident as the ship moved up and down the coast with people disembarking, who hurried ashore holding on to a rope that was connected to the ship. Once on dry land, the volunteers were taken to a cement factory near Haifa and then onto the 72nd Battalion, where the reality of the situation in Palestine and the fighting force became clear.
“There was a young man from Winnipeg who said to me, ‘Abe, I hear you were in the army. Can you show me how to put a bullet in my gun? I said, “Oh my God, what are you doing here?” Then I looked inside the gun, it was chock full of mud. If he’d pulled the trigger it would have blown his head off. I begin to wonder who was running the show here. I hope they knew what they were doing!”
The first action I saw was at Mount Meron. The Arabs occupied the area and the 79th of which I was now a member, came in on one side with the armored cars whilst the infantry drove round and secured the position. No injuries were sustained on the Israeli side. This action was quickly followed by the battle for the village of Jish, the opening phase of Operation Hiram. The overall plan was for a lightning attack on the forces of the Arab Liberation Army of Kaukji, before the Syrians or Lebanese forces would have time to reinforce.
The battleground for the 7th Brigade was rich in Jewish historical connections, with probably none more significant than the battle at Jish. It is likely that few of the soldiers in 1948 were aware that Jish, known in Hebrew as Gush Halav, was the last village to hold out in the Galilee against the Romans, nineteen hundred years earlier. So determined were the Jewish fighters at Gush Halav, that they eventually committed suicide rather than surrender to the Roman occupiers. Now, Jewish fighters were returning to the area and would triumph. Indeed, this time, the battle was far easier and the predominantly Christian village soon hung out white sheets as a sign of surrender. Its strategic significance was critical since it was a command centre of the Arab Liberation Army in the north led by Fawzi el-Kaujki. The capture of Jish would also secure the road going to the Sasa junction, the pivotal position for control of the Galilee.
At Sasa, our commander Ben Dunkelman sought to gain the upper hand by employing his often used tactic of creating diversions and attacking from the side in order to disadvantage the enemy. So, three armored cars were dispatched round the back of Sasa and fired down into the town. This sowed fear amongst the Arabs because they feared they were being attacked from the rear. Elements from the 79th were also deployed in a major diversionary attack from Nahariya on the northern coast, through Tarshiha and then on to Sasa. It soon became clear that the tactics paid off, the Arabs were fleeing northwards and the Galilee was safely in Israeli hands.
Author: Abe Levine