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International: On the Eve?

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While U.N. talked, the Jews were carving Palestine with a sword. In a whirlwind week they seized Haifa, attacked Jaffa, won Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee and tried to cut the Arab supply road into Jerusalem. For the first time since the Romans leveled Jerusalem 1,800 years ago, a Jewish army ate Passover matzoth and bitter herbs around campfires in the field. Said Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion: “We stand on the eve of the Jewish State . . . heartened by the victories of our army . . . We have just begun to buckle on the sword.”

Behind the Mortars. The Jews’ most dazzling military prize of the week was Haifa, the only port where seagoing ships can dock. As British troops prepared last week to withdraw from all of the city except the dock area, Jewish soldiers began to filter into the town. Others gathered on the slopes of Mount Carmel. One morning at i a.m. they struck. Behind a creeping mortar barrage, the Jews moved into the Arab quarters of the city. Bewildered Arabs gathered for one brief counterattack, then collapsed in leaderless confusion. Within a day, the Jews had taken Haifa.

Of the 60,000 Arabs who lived there, many had fled to safety even before the attack started. As the panicky evacuation began during the Jewish assault, the remaining thousands gathered what few belongings they could carry. Lashed on by the mortar barrage, more than a thousand men, women & children hammered at the No. 3 gate of the British-controlled port area to seek safety. Royal Marine guards finally let them on to the docks.

“Pathetic Treasures.” “One entire jetty,” cabled TIME Correspondent Eric Gibbs, “was packed with these refugees, sitting on their pathetic bundles or clutching them with the strength of despair. What did these simple, bewildered people seize in the moment of panic? A small Turkish carpet, a radio, a sewing machine were among the treasures. A three-year-old hugged his pet pigeon. One woman brought a battered aluminum chamberpot. Hour after hour they sat, waiting for barges, British landing craft and other odd boats now doing ferry service across the blue bay to Acre.” Other thousands fled to the Arab-held hills near Nablus.

The mass evacuation, prompted partly by fear, partly by orders of Arab leaders, left the Arab quarter of Haifa a ghost city. More than pride and defiance was behind . the Arab orders. By withdrawing Arab workers, their leaders hoped to paralyze Haifa. Jewish leaders said wishfully: “They’ll be back in a few days. Already some are returning.”

Coastal Fortress. One problem for the Jews was how to fight a war and at the same time keep their coastal farms and factories going. For the moment the accent had to be on the military phase. In their blitz of the past two weeks the Jews had tried to consolidate their coastal base of operations from Haifa to below Tel Aviv. To get rid of one Arab enclave, Irgun Zvai Leumi terrorists tried to capture Jaffa, which the U.N. partition plan gave to the Arabs. British troops checked the Irgun attack.

If the Jews succeeded in building up a solid coastal fortress, they would then have to make a major strategic decision. Should they lash out at the main center of Arab strength in the hills north of Jerusalem, trying to destroy the Arab armies (which could be steadily reinforced from neighboring Arab states)? Or should the Jews take up a defensive posture on the coast and in Jerusalem, facing endless guerrilla attacks? The Jews’ better organization, discipline and tactics had paid off in the early days of the battle for Palestine. But in the long run they knew they could hold on only if the Arabs wearied of fighting or started quarreling among themselves.

“When We Have Won …” Last week there were no signs of either. Jewish successes had consolidated the Arabs as never before. In anger and wounded pride Arabs cried out against their leaders. The prestige of Haj Amin el Husseini, ex-Mufti of Jerusalem, sagged lower & lower. The Arab League was under pressure to act quickly. Said the Cairo daily Al Balagh: “We can no longer suffer one catastrophe after another. Zionism in Palestine means that no Arabs will be left . . .”

Last week Arab leaders flew to Amman, capital of Trans-Jordan, to talk to the one man most Arabs thought could save Palestine for them. King Abdullah said that he would lead his Arab Legion (10,000 men) and Syrian and Lebanese armies into Palestine by May 1. Said Jamal el Husseini, No. 2 man to Abdullah’s old rival, the Mufti: “When we have won, the Legion will return across the border. Then we will hold a plebiscite to determine who will govern the new Palestine.” Other Arabs were not so sure that, once he had taken all or part of Palestine, Abdullah would give it up. In their extremity, they were willing to take that chance.

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