• Sources of the Jordan River
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

January 1, 1948

David Ben Gurion, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, met to assess the attack (on Dec.18th) on the village of Khisas [pop 530 incl. 40 Jews] close to the intersection of the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. Members of the Haganah , under night cover, attacked with bullets and grenades.The death toll was reported as ten dead, including five children. A Haganah spokesman said that it was "unfortunate" that small sleeping children should have fallen victim to"that kind of attack". However as Israeli historian Benny Morris observed, use of "excessive force" was, in the long run, fruitful. In the early hours of the morning Zionist forces attacked the village of Balad al-Shaykh [pop. 4 120] at the foot of Mount Carmel outside Haifa. At the end of half an hour's fighting 17 Palestinians, including one woman, were dead; 33 were injured including eight women and nine children. Jewish casualties were three dead and two wounded. It was reported that the Jewish workers at various work places within Haifa, including the refinery, were demanding Jewish guards for protection. However the authorities were quite clear that the deaths of the 38 Jewish workers (some sources referred to 41 deaths) had not been premeditated. They vehemently denied that the Arab guards at the refinery had removed dinner knives, scissors etc from entering Jewish workers. It was also clear that most Jews in Haifa were not prepared to face the fact that provocation had taken place when the Irgun had thrown the bomb two days earlier. At least 12 Jews and four Arabs were injured in bomb throwing and shooting incidents in Haifa. The resolve of the Arab population in and around Haifa was seriously damaged by these incidents. A group of gunmen in battledress, believed to be Zionists, crashed through an Arab roadblock in Jaffa, raking the street with automatic weapons. Ten Arabs were wounded. Earlier, four Arabs and two Jews were killed with 31 Arabs wounded when Zionists attacked a Palestinian village near Haifa. The Haganah claimed to have 'executed' a German and a Pole 'found guilty of collaborating with the enemy'. The bodies of two men were subsequently found on the outskirts of Rehavia, a Jewish residential suburb of Jerusalem. The Government's instructions to British forces to abstain from searching cars and removing defensive weapons came into effect. The ship United Nations ran aground north of Haifa with 700 visaless Jews. Only 13 were detained, with the rest being able to prove that they were "Palestine citizens."

January 2, 1948

On the day that all Jewish employees failed to turn up for work at Sarafand, the largest British military base in the Middle East, 12 bombs were discovered at the base by Palestinian employees. In West Jerusalem, British armoured cars machine gunned snipers on rooftops and behind windows. Heavy street battles raged between Arab, Jew and police. Fourteen people, including three British soldiers died. Two died as a result of Arab sniper fire, the other by an unknown gunman. Zionist forces attempted to blow up the Moslem Supreme Council building. Heavy fighting was reported around Safad, in northern Galilee. Zionist forces were reported to have blown up Palestinian houses. The wives of British officials were urged to leave Palestine as soon as possible. The Scotsman printed an article which was very optimistic of the Arab future in the impending conflict, despite the acknowledged facts that there was no central authority ready to take over, at partition, essential services such as water, supply of food and other essentials. Food was in short supply, with bread prices up by seven or eight times the amount a few months previously There was a very pessimistic outlook for the Jews and Zionists, although their ambition was acknowledged. Alternative roads were being built to avoid Arab areas, and there were 16 hill-top forts to keep open the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They had a "fantastic number of Sten Guns" and small arms, a few mortars, 18 "elderly cars" and a dozen training aircraft together with a healthy bank balance for the purchase of heavier weapons. The Haganah now claimed to have 70 000 members under arms, with the Palmach numbering about 3 000. The latter had been trained with "European armies"and was considered to be a "strike force" with appropriate military organisation. There was also the "Irgun who, it is believed, are proposing to collaborate in face of the common enemy. There is also the small, crazy, and more or less insignificant Stern Gang."

January 3, 1948

Forty Zionist militia attacked the village of Ghwway Abu Shusha [pop. 1240], near Tiberias, at 3am. Two villagers, including a woman, were killed as were three of the attackers. An attack was launched on the village of Ayn al-Zaytun close to Safad [pop. 820]. One villager was killed with four houses fire bombed.

January 4, 1948

Members of the terrorist Stern Gang bombed a crowded public square in Jaffa. Up to 30 people were reported dead with about 98 wounded using a lorry loaded with more than just oranges. A technique well rehearsed when fighting the British. On this occasion two terrorists in Arab disguise, who had been foiled on a previous occasion, parked the lorry amongst buildings in central Jaffa. The blast destroyed the old Turkish Government House, the Central Police Station and a corner of Barclay's Bank. Government House contained two rooms used by the Jaffa Arab National Committee. Premises in the building were also used as a social welfare society, for feeding children and for the destitute. Many of the children were amongst the casualties. British soldiers who rushed to the scene to help rescue efforts were stoned by Arab crowds for the reason that they believed the British to be responsible since the Stern Gang terrorists were in the uniform of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. In Jerusalem the Haganah blew up some houses alleged to be the source of sniper fire. It was reported that the situation in the Old City of Jerusalem was a cause for concern. The British authorities appealed to the religious heads in the city to support an appeal urging the citizens to desist from violent acts. The Muslim leadership had agreed, but a reply was awaited from the Christian Patriarchs and Chief Rabbis. While it was acknowledged that the various religious communities within the Old City had relatively harmonious relations - including the Jews who were known as 'lukewarm Zionists' - the Haganah had installed themselves in the City about a month earlier. With the passing of the partition resolution sniping and more serious violence had followed. A U.S. ship was discovered carrying 26 cases of TNT bound for Palestine. The discovery was made when one box labelled "Industrial Machinery" fell and broke open.

January 5, 1948

The Haganah admitted blowing up the the Palestinian owned Semiramis Hotel in Jerusalem. Twenty six men, women and children who had taken refuge in the hotel were killed, along with the Spanish Consul. A variety of excuses were offered for this particular atrocity including the unsubstantiated claim that it housed the HQ of the Nejada resistance group. The Haganah alleged that the hotel had not been accepting guests for some time and any non-Arab casualties must have been cooperating with the "Arab gangs." In reality the hotel was housing, amongst other people, 16 relatives of the owner, one of Jerusalem's leading Christian families. His two maiden sisters, who were amongst the dead, had left their homes "for greater safety." A British report called the atrocity "wholesale murder of innocent people". However it had its effect. The hotel was situated in the Katamon district of West Jerusalem, populated by mainly Christian Palestinians some Muslims and British residents. Some residents of Katamon fled the fighting, their homes being dynamited soon after. Even at that juncture, there was awareness of Zionist intent, as recorded by a young Palestinian, Hala Sakakini. In recording that the people were simply "panic-stricken", provoking images of European refugees during the war, efforts were made to restrain the flight from Katamon. "This is just what the Jews want you to do; you leave and they occupy your houses and then one day you will find that Qatamon has become another Jewish quarter!"13 The Jewish Agency complained that British soldiers were effectively acknowledging the legitimacy of Arab road blocks by showing identity documents on demand. The response to the allegation was to be found in the practice of the Zionist terrorists who used British Army uniforms while perpetrating their outrages. The soldiers probably found it easier to continue with their work of providing humanitarian assistance to both parties by showing their documents rather than provoking hostility by dismantling the road block. A British sergeant was killed at an Arab road block in Haifa. The illegal Haganah radio station, Voice of Israel, claimed that three houses had been blown up in a village near Tiberias. Eight people were claimed killed.

January 6, 1948

At 2am Royal Engineers rescued a mother and her dead baby from the debris of the Semiramis Hotel. The Palestine Government issued a strong denial that the Semiramis Hotel had been used as a base for "marauding gangs" as alleged by the Haganah. The latter's reaction at being accused of "dastardly and wholesale murder of innocent people" was to feign indignation at the Government statement, questioning why they had not reacted to "similar murders by Arabs." An army lieutenant and a British police officer were shot dead during an attempt to disarm an Arab mourner at a funeral procession on the Acre Haifa road. A British policeman was killed in Jaffa. Two hundred British soldiers were reported to have demolished Palestinian road blocks around Tulkarem, warning that they would shoot to prevent them being rebuilt. Two female members of the Haganah were each fined £400 or three years in prison for "unlawfully carrying two Sten guns and six hand grenades." It was a common practice for the women to carry the weapons since only those found carrying the weapons were arrested. This tactic avoided the arrest of the male fighters. The Arab Higher Executive Committee approved the formation of what effectively amounted to a shadow Government for Palestine.

January 7, 1948

Following the attack by the Palmach, six days earlier, on the village of Balad al-Shayk near Haifa, the village was partially evacuated. Some reports indicated the massacre of more than 60 people. [Author's note: Balad al-Shaykh contains the tomb of Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassan who was killed by the British in 1935. The military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, is named after the Sheikh.] Fifteen Palestinians were killed and 41 (including a British sergeant and two British policemen) wounded in two bombings carried out by the Irgun at Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem. The terrorists, driving an armoured car given to the Jewish settlement police, and taken earlier from a Jewish garage, wearing stolen police caps threw or rolled a bomb into the patrons of an Arab cafe, drove a further distance and flung out another bomb. Before the armoured car crashed, the terrorists sprayed onlookers with Sten gun fire.The bombers, believed to be the Irgun, were either caught or shot dead. It was believed that the attack was a token protest at the Arab hold over Jaffa Gate, which cut off Jewish access to the Old City. Later the Irgun issued a statement saying that it was determined to destroy all Arab road-blocks leading to the Old City or any area in Palestine. Two British soldiers were shot and wounded elsewhere in Jerusalem. In the Sheikh Jarrah quarter, to the north of the city, armed Jews and Arabs faced each other with two Jews being killed and three wounded. With all Jewish and Arab employees staying away, the work of the main post office and the courts had almost ground to a halt. There was no progress to report in the attempt to get all religious leaders to sign a general appeal for the Old City to be free from violence. The Scotsman reported that "The Arabs have far to go before they can catch up with the well armed Jewish forces who have the big advantage that in the hidden factories in Tel Aviv and Petakh Tiqva home made rifles and sten gun copies from British samples are being turned out by the hundreds." It was estimated that 500 people had been killed since the passing of the partition resolution at the end of November.

January 8, 1948

The reportedly 80 000 strong Haganah organisation announced a policy of "aggressive self-defence." The policy of shoot and bomb first then ask questions later was described as "new." A term which certainly belied its activities to date and which completely avoided any mention of the various pre-planned military operations which were to descend upon the Palestinian civilian population, with such devastating consequences, in the coming months. With the Palmach "strike force", at the forefront the policy of "aggressive self-defence" The Scotsman commented that with the "violent, bloody attacks upon apparently inoffensive Arabs . . . any sympathy the Jews had won was dissipated with the smoke of the burnt out Arab villages." Apparently "This masterpiece of humbug is on the lips af all Jews. It was concocted in the inner sanctum of the Jewish Agency and thus legalises any act of wanton murder committed in its name." Fifteen people were killed during the course of the day, including one British policeman. More than 1 000 Jews were reported to be besieged in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Throughout the city there were continual bursts of machine gun and pistol fire, with the army ferreting out snipers. Eighty Irgun gunmen raided a first-aid clinic to remove a wounded comrade. The first convoy of Iraqi volunteers, consisting of 90 commandos, left Baghdad en route to Palestine. For the first time, the question of a Palestine "security force" was raised at the United Nations. With France due to take over the Chair of the Security Council next month the idea of a force akin to the French Foreign Legion was mooted. American Zionist Jews were reported to be preparing a campaign to have the US arms embargo lifted. The intention was to ask for arms to be provided on a lend-lease basis. A propaganda campaign had been started to persuade the American public that Britain was to blame for events in Palestine, with the American Zionist Emergency Council at the forefront. It was reported that £200 000 was to be despatched to the Jewish Labour Group in Palestine which claimed to provide more than 70% of the manpower for the Haganah.

January 9, 1948

A group of Zionists from Yavne attacked 'Wadi Sukrayr' (Suqrir) [pop. 390] to the north of Gaza. A counter-attack was launched by the police. Eight Arabs and 12 Haganah scouts were reported killed. A Haganah intelligence report, dated two days later, recommended that "the village should be destroyed completely and some males from the village should be murdered." This was the first operational proposal by the Haganah to demolish and level a village.14 The first attack on an isolated Zionist settlement took place at Kefar Szold, a kibbutz in the north of Palestine, by a unit of the Arab Liberation Army from Syria. The Scotsman reported that a total of three Zionist settlements were attacked by about 600 fighters from this "Arab band" which had crossed the border from Syria that morning. British troops and aircraft dispersed the attackers, but not before the waterworks controlling the marshes of the Huleh were blown up. The village of Khisas contributed to the Arab firepower. Recently the Haganah had attacked the village. Their calling card had been one house blown up leaving five children dead. The Haganah claimed that the British troops fought side by side with the Arabs. Three Jewish deaths were recorded. A three cornered Arab-British-Jewish fight took place in southern Palestine when an Arab force of about 100 fighters besieged the colony of Ramat Rachel. Twelve Jews and eight Arabs were reported killed. One British police officer was injured. In Jerusalem the police ordered the evacuation of the Jewish hospital, on the Arab-Jewish border, in the Old City. The Stern Gang threatened that those newspaper correspondents who had accepted "Press cards" from the Arab Higher Committee would be considered to have "forfeited privileges and immunity." The demand for such cards came from the substantial American press corp in the area, one of whom had been "molested" in Transjordan by Arabs. An illegal shipment of 5 200 combat knives and tons of surplus army explosives, destined for Zionist forces in Palestine, were seized in New Jersey. Three lorry loads of demolition charges were seized in Ulster County, en route to the business associate of a "Zionist leader." Members of the British Administration were told to make domestic arrangements for leaving Palestine at a months notice.

January 11, 1948

Zionist forces demolished the strategically important Bridge of Jacob's Daughters over the River Jordan. It was part of the transit route from Syria to Palestine which was used by Syrian fighters a few days previously. The settlement of Kfar Uriah, on the Jerusalem Jaffa railway, was attacked by Arab forces. Zionist sources spoke of 10 Jewish fatalities in a fight lasting hours. Arab casualties were unknown. Eventually British armoured cars drove off the attackers. The FBI uncovered a fund of £194 000 for purchase of explosives in the USA in support of the Zionist cause while investigating a shipment of 199 tons of cyclonite, an explosive considerably more explosive than TNT. A statement issued by the Jewish Agency made great play of the fact that arms were required for "defence" but made no effort to explain why explosives, particularly suitable for demolition work, would be used for "defence" purposes. At a meeting with Ben Gurion, Arab affairs adviser, Ezra Danin, while commenting on the effectiveness of the Arab forces in controlling the main roads and the use of retaliation against local villages to combat this, advised that "our friends among the Arabs inform us that a severe blow, with a high rate of casualties to the Arabs would increase Arab fear and would render external Arab intervention ineffective." Ten days earlier Gad Machnes had advised Ben Gurion along the same lines "we need a cruel and brutal retaliating policy, we have to be accurate in time, place and number of dead. If we know that a family is guilty, we should be merciless and kill the women and the children as well, otherwise the reaction is useless. While the forces are in action, there is no room for checking who is guilty and who is not."15 While Elias Sasson, director of the Arab Division of the Jewish Agency's Political Department observed of the main towns and the rural hinterland "Hunger, high prices, and poverty are rampant in a frightening degree. There is fear and terror everywhere. The flight is painful. from house to house, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, from city to city, from village to village, and from Palestine to the neighbouring countries."16

January 12, 1948

Three Palestinian Arabs were killed and seven British soldiers wounded in a village outside Jerusalem while trying to uncover snipers. In a robbery attributed to the Stern Gang, a branch of Barclay's bank in Gaza was raided by 20 armed Zionists. A British soldier on guard duty was clubbed and his rifle stolen. Two Jews were killed and one British soldier wounded when Jewish owned lorries were ambushed in Haifa. Moshe Shertok, head of the Jewish Agency's Political Department, accused British troops of "crippling Jewish defences." The Agency intended to ask the U.N. to authorise a Jewish militia of up to 20 000 men, together with financial aid, to enforce partition. The Scotsman printed a feature on the training of Palestinian Arab guerrillas, with "fierce hill-men with assorted pistols, long curved knives and rifles slung over their shoulders" ready for their marching orders. Interestingly, the language adopted to describe the scene could have been taken from events a couple of decades or so later. There was the "triangle of terror" in Samaria, which description was accorded to the "militant" Arab towns of Nablus, Tulkarem and Jenin.

January 13, 1948

The body of a Pole, believed to have been "executed" by a Zionist firing squad was found in Tel Aviv, bound and gagged. Haganah "black squads"(bomb squads) attacked the Sheikh Jarrah Arab quarter on the outskirts of Jerusalem, gaining control of the northern approaches to the city, reportedly "wiping out"out the Arab quarter. In the Kidron area they torched or blew up 25 Arab houses. In this action, one of the heaviest attacks to date, a mortar bombardment rained down on the densely built houses with road approaches being mined to hinder Arab reinforcements. Zionist forces positioned in an adjacent Jewish community, swept the area with machine gun fire. Hussein al-Khalidi, leader of the Jerusalem National Committee wrote of the situation in the city "There are no people, no discipline, no arms, and no ammunition . . . . the economy is destroyed . . . . there is no flour, no food . . . Jerusalem is emptying out."17 Most of the houses on the periphery of the village of Lifta [pop. 1 050] were demolished. (Most of the villagers had left following a terrorist attack by the Stern Gang on 28 Dec.1947 when a bus load of terrorists had halted outside the village coffee shop, spraying the patrons with machine gun fire and throwing grenades. Six were killed.) In the end the western part of the city was secured by evicting the residents of the villages of Romena and Sheikh Badr.To the south of the city, Arab forces besieged the Jewish colony of Kfar Etzion. A Jewish bus terminus in Haifa was bombed. The deaths of six Jews and two British was reported. A number of Arab attacks on Jewish settlements were reported. In northern Palestine, in the Hulah area, British troops came to the rescue of settlers at Lahavoth. One settler was killed near Haifa. A Jewish convoy was ambushed between Jerusalem and Hebron with two Jewish fatalities. Once again, British troops gave assistance to the Zionists with the convoy completing its journey under British protection. On the outskirts of Haifa one Jewish land labourer was killed and another attacked. British troops intervened, inflicting casualties amongst the Arab assailants, with one believed dead. Two bodies were found close to Palestinian villages, one Jewish, one unidentified. In Jaffa, four Palestinian Arabs, including a four year old girl, were shot dead with seven wounded. Sniping on the Jerusalem-Jaffa road resumed, according to reports. There were reports that 15 February could be "D Day" for the Arabs to "sweep Zionism from Palestine."

January 14, 1948

Four settlements north of Hebron were attacked by Arab raiders. It was believed that there was no pre-planned military strategy involved. Apparently it was led by a Palestinian fighter, sentenced to life imprisonment 10 years previously, who had escaped from Acre prison when it had earlier been attacked by Zionist forces. The Arab Higher Executive and the British Assistant District Commissioner were called to intercede. Zionist sources claimed that 100 of the attackers had been blown up on surrounding mine fields. Arab sources put their own dead at about 12 and claimed to have killed defenders A number of street murders and attempted murders took took place in Jerusalem with Jews, and one British officer with a Jewish wife, being the victims. The latter two were killed by attackers. Some Jews leaving their property in the area of the King David Hotel were confronted by Arabs demanding identity papers. On refusing, one woman was abducted, to be found later lying in the street injured. A British officer who went looking for her was shot and injured. Explosions could be heard to the north of the city, the result of Zionist mortar fire.The Sheikh Jarrah area was subject to a mortar bombardment described as "one of the heaviest attacks of the present disorders." Observers on Mount Scopus watched mortars crashing through the roofs of the houses in this densely built-up and populated area. The approach roads to the area had been mined to hinder Arab and British reinforcements from reaching the scene. With religious leaders having no success in trying to bring peace to the city, the Haganah and political spokesmen spoke of trouble to come if the Arab "siege" was not lifted and Jews allowed free access in and out of Jerusalem. An attack was made on the car of the Iraqi consulate-general on the road between Hebron and Jerusalem. It was felt that it could have been a case of mistaken identity since it was only Arab forces that were active in the area. In Haifa, Palestinians planted a bomb in a post office van resulting in the death of six Jews. The Times posed the $64 000 question: "Are there any prospects of settlement in Palestine after Britain's abandonment of the mandate and subsequent withdrawal ?" The article pointed out that "Jewish extremists" realised that they had much to gain by striking quickly, before the Arabs could organise themselves. Such action could sway or force the hands of the more "moderate Zionist". Arab objection to partition and the projected boundaries was only one factor making for war. The other was the belief that the Zionists would not be satisfied with their allotted State and would aim at the acquisition of all Palestine and also Transjordan. The Scotsman featured an article on the Zionist colonies in northern Palestine. The first settlement in Eastern Galilee was established in 1918, part of an "obviously deliberate Jewish policy which placed these isolated Jewish settlements in the heart of Arab Palestine." The settlements now "bulged with sturdy young men and women, hand-picked Haganah detachments" perceived to be doing a good job on land allegedly "neglected for centuries." A Czech arms deal, worth over $12 million, was concluded with the Haganah. Arms purchased included 24 500 rifles, 5 000 light machine guns, 200 medium machine guns, 54 million rounds of ammunition, 25 Meserschmitts.18

January 15, 1948

The aftermath of the van explosion the previous day in Haifa brought life to a standstill, with firing intensifying as daylight arrived. The British military installed outposts on rooftops and upper storeys thus bringing sniping, by Arab forces, to a virtual halt. An Arab bus was fired upon, resulting in one dead passenger and six injured. Some passengers returned fire, with two - armed with a Tommy gun - escaping from the police. At the same time, on the eastern side of Haifa a Jewish bus was fired upon resulting in two dead and one injured. During the day Haifa came to a standstill as buses and cars fell victim to sniper fire. Jews and Arabs battled for control of the road that led from the Jewish area to the main business quarter. One report put the Arab deaths at ten, Jewish deaths at five. One Arab was killed and three were seriously wounded by British troops who came to the assistance of a Zionist convoy on the outskirts of Beersheba. A British soldier was shot dead by an unknown gunman in Tel Aviv. In the Hebron area an RAF Spitfire was fired upon by a plane believed to have come from the Jewish flying club in Palestine. The Spitfire was on patrol over Hebron where British troops were evacuating wounded Jews and Arabs. Jerusalem was the focus of much fighting. Military estimates pointed to as many as 500 members of the Haganah, together with the Irgun and Stern Gang, operating under one command in the city. The 1 500 Jewish residents in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, in a state of semi-seige, were subject to incessant sniper fire but refused to evacuate. The occasional grenade was to be seen bringing down a flimsy house in spirals of dust. Jaffa Gate was patrolled by Palestine Police and regular troops. Both only intervene, it was reported, once trouble starts. This would seem not to have satisfied the Jewish Agency with its daily complaints and demands that British troops should rescue the besieged Jews. The Scotsman reported that British troops do regularly penetrate Arab barricades to ensure that food gets into the city. They bring out the aged, the sick, women with new-born babies. They even take in doctors, nurses and those residents trapped outside. The role of British forces in protecting Jewish convoys was reported. Escorting food convoys to Jerusalem was now a regular feature. The RAF was now being used to protect potash convoys from Jericho to Jerusalem. At the Security Council, Britain reaffirmed its position that British troops would not be involved in enforcing partition. As if in anticipation of a Jewish Agency demand that the UN take appropriate military steps to enforce the resolution, the Philippines drafted a reqest to the Security Council. It asked that an international military force be available to the Palestine Commission to support its task in enforcing partition once the British withdrew.

January 16, 1948

A British report to the UN estimated 1 974 deaths or injuries between 30 November (the day after the UN partition resolution was passed) and 10 January. Those killed included 295 Arabs, 262 Jews and 30 British. Increasingly British forces were being called upon to protect Jewish convoys travelling to outlying areas, with the RAF playing an increasingly important role. Jewish convoys conveying potash between Jerusalem and Jericho had the protection of a single plane. Six spitfires together with tanks and other ground support dispersed an Arab force of up to 3 000 who had surrounded four settlements in the Hebron area. On the road to Mount Scopus a vehicle carrying mostly Jewish members of the Palestine Police Band was attacked and crashed. It caused one death and two injuries. On the same road an armour plated Jewish bus was attacked with two passengers being injured. The Haganah blew up three Palestinian houses in Haifa as a reprisal for bombing of the Jewish bus terminal two days earlier. In the first house eight children between the ages of 18 months and 12 years were slaughtered. One woman, aged 25 years, was killed. Four men and three children were injured. It was alleged that this house was a "centre for Arab gangsters". In the second house five Palestinians were killed with five reported yet to be recovered from the rubble. In the third house there were no reported casualties. Further attacks resulted in the destruction of a bus garage and 19 buses together with a number of Arab homes. During the course of the day, in attacks attributed to Arab assailants, two British soldiers were shot, one fatally. Two others were stabbed by Arab attackers in Haifa. A goods train was held up and robbed by presumed Arab assailants. A policeman was killed when his bus came under fire. Eleven Zionists, in possession of armaments ranging from pistols to grenades, were arrested by police. One Zionist was arrested in Haifa following sniping from the area. Three Zionists travelling in an armoured bus were arrested when they were found in possession of pistols and grenades. Eighty heavily armed Zionists from Hebron settlements were ambushed as they set out to carry out (dawn) raids on nearby Palestinian villages. Mules, Bren guns, Tommy guns and rifles were captured. A further battle developed when a similar raiding party from Kfar Etzion settlement was also ambushed. Palestine Police reported that 100 Zionist fighters had attacked the village of Surif, reputed to be the HQ of Arab guerrilla leader, Abdul Kader Husseini. Former RAF pilot, Ezer Weizmann, nephew of the Zionist leader,Dr Weizmann, was arrested when he admitted firing upon the Spitfire the previous day. Zionist sources claimed to have killed 82 Palestinian Arabs in the previous 24 hours.

January 17, 1948

Thirty five Haganah fighters and four Arab fighters were reported dead in the proximity of the settlement of Kfar Etzion near the village of Surif, 12 miles south-west of Jerusalem. Reports varied, with the Zionists claiming that their forces were ambushed while on their way by foot to reinforce the settlement. In total, two Zionist parties were ambushed. Later in the day a further Zionist force of about 100 men was reported to have attacked Surif, the HQ of the Arab guerrilla leader, Abdul Kader Husseini. A Zionist convoy travelling from Jaffa was ambushed outside Jerusalem. One Jewish death was reported, one missing and nine wounded. The Palestinian village of Dayr Aban [pop. 2 100] was surrounded by force of at least 100 Zionists. There was no record of casualties resulting from what was described as a "punitive expedition."

January 18, 1948

The town of Salama, near Tel-Aviv, [pop 6 730] was attacked by the 3rd Battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade (three houses were blown up). The Arab Liberation Militia sent 20 reinforcements to join the 30 strong village militia. The operational orders for the assault force read "The aim is to attack the northern part of the village of Salama.... to cause deaths, blow up houses and to burn everything possible."19 An estimated force of 80 Zionists attacked the village of Kuwaykat [pop. 1 050] close to Acre. By the 18th, the situation in Jaffa was described thus "there is no work. Whoever could leave, has left, there is fear everywhere, and there is no safety. Robbery and theft are common."20 A convoy was sniped and ambushed on the Jaffa-Jerusalem road, two Jews were killed including the Haganah chief, Maale Hashiman. The Haganah blew up four house near the suburb of Holan, and houses at two points in the Jaffa area. The Haganah policy of brutal reprisals resulted in the "temporary evacuation" of the semi-Bedouin community of Mansurat al Kheit on the River Jordan. A 100 strong Haganah party, searching for the 35 dead as a result of the ambush days earlier, clashed with Arab forces near Beit Jamal. There were conflicting reports of casualties. The dead included the first American to be killed in the conflict. The bodies were eventually brought to the settlement by British troops. One British soldier was shot dead, by assailants believed to be Arab,while travelling by truck along the Acre-Safad road. In Haifa most Arab and Jewish businesses had closed by 2pm. Buses with armour plated or netted windows had started to run again between the upper Jewish and lower Arab parts of the town. A Haganah General Staff directive, underpinning the now common strategy of dynamiting Arab houses during "retaliatory" strikes was issued. Targeted for destruction were those alleged to be "houses serving as concentration points, supply depots and training sites."

January 19, 1948

The Haganah attacked the villages of Shafa Amr (Haifa area) and Tamra ( in the Nazareth district). In the case of Tamra, an attack force of about 200 killed two Palestinians and wounded three seriously, including a 10 year old boy. The Irgun were prevented from perpetrating a potentially devastating car bomb attack in the Old City of Jerusalem. A car packed with gelignite and rivets, connected to a timer, tried to enter the city at JaffaGate driven by Jewish bus driver dressed as an Arab and carrying false identity papers. He successfully passed through the checkpoint but was recognised by an Arab bus driver. The burnt and dismembered body of a Yemenite Jew, believed to be the driver was found later at Jaffa Gate. In Haifa, Arabs demanded the withdrawal of three busloads of Jewish workers from Consolidated Oil Refineries, thus renewing the stalemate which has prevented resumption of production for the past three weeks. Four Stern Gang members, including a girl, were sentenced to life imprisonment for taking part in illegal military training, carrying and firing the arms during a raid in October. It was stated that the four settlements in the Hebron area were in constant danger due to their isolated position. As two new contingents of Arab volunteers arrived in Damascus, the first British civil servants to leave Palestine - architects, engineers etc - readied for departure. The Arab Higher Committee refused an invitation to appear before the UN Palestine Commission. The Committee was "determined to persist in rejection of partition and in refusal to recognise the United Nations resolution ."

January 20, 1948

A combined force of Palestinians and the ALA, estimated at about 500 fighters, attacked the colony of Yehyam in western Galilee. British troops came to the rescue. The village of Lubya [pop. 2 350] situated to the west of Tiberias was attacked by Zionist raiders during the night. One villager was reported dead as a result of the attack. At Jehiam, Upper Galilee, a force of 100 Zionists fortified in a crusader castle, were under siege by an Arab force of about 500. Nine Zionists were killed in what proved to be a well planned attack on this isolated settlement, before being relieved by British troops and police. In Jerusalem, the relative calm of the previous few days, while religious leaders met to consider the position of Jerusalem, was shattered. The Haganah fired upon members of the Highland Light Infantry as they evacuated inmates of a Jewish home for the aged. One soldier was seriously injured, three less so. One Zionist was killed and three injured in the return fire. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu suggested, in the House of Lords, that the United Nations should obtain a solemn pledge from the "new Jewish State" that it had no further territorial ambitions in the Middle East.21 It was stated that no searches for arms were now being made except when there was evidence of misuse. Zionist 'self defence' organisations would not be obstructed while they acted in purely defensive roles. At the UN, the Palestine Commission discussed, for the first time, the possibility of sending troops to Palestine. In the absence of UN observers, discussion centred on the feasibility of using press reports as a basis for despatching any such troops.

January 21, 1948

It was reported that a second contingent of ALA volunteers arrived in Palestine. Britain informed the UN Palestine Commission that it was not possible to comply with the UN request that a major seaport be opened to speed up the transfer of Zionist immigrants to Palestine. The policy of 1 500 immigrants per month was reaffirmed.

January 22, 1948

Golda Meyerson left for New York on a mission of "mobilising American Jewry to give political, moral and financial assistance" to the Zionist endeavours in Palestine.22 Her primary mission was to obtain arms. Meanwhile, Arab forces attacked a convoy outside Jaffa at the village of Yazur. The deaths of seven Jewish policemen escorting the convoy was reported. Half an hour later another attack took place on the convoy by a passing vehicle. Three Arabs were reported killed in this exchange with six wounded.(About a month previously, on 18 December, Zionist militia, disguised as British soldiers, had entered the village, threw bombs at the coffee house, killing six villagers.) The site of the village is now a suburb of Tel Aviv. Ten miles outside Jerusalem, another convoy was attacked resulting in the death of one Jew, with another seriously injured. In Jaffa, a Zionist sniper shot one Palestinian Arab dead and wounded four others. Later, snipers opened fire on a lorry carrying Arab passengers. One woman and two men were killed. Seven were seriously injured, including five children. A group of workers from the village of Hamama were attacked by settlers from Nitzanim settlement. Fifteen workers were wounded.

January 23, 1948

By this date, commentators were able to affirm that while the two main Zionist terrorist groups - the Irgun and Stern Gang - on occasion would conduct their own operations, in general, together with the official Jewish defence force Haganah, they were all obeying Jewish Agency orders. It was further observed that the Haganah had developed into an efficient, strong well-disciplined, fighting machine which would retaliate viciously and methodically after any Arab attack.

January 25, 1948

Golda Meyerson, in an address to the AGM of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds in Chicago asked for American Jews to supply up to $30 million immediately.23 British armoured cars interrupted an Arab attack on a convoy outside Jerusalem. Ten Jews and two Arabs were reported killed.

January 26, 1948

An attack by the Haganah destroyed the village of Sukreir in the Gaza district. Explosions ripped through various empty premises in Jerusalem, including a booby trapped house in the Jewish quarter where a soldier was injured. Seven Arabs were reported killed in night attacks near Tel Aviv and Jaffa. A government directive that all US cargo ships have to be examined was enacted when the US ship, the Exford, was directed to Haifa for examination of her cargo.

January 27, 1948

An uneasy week long truce in the coastal plane area was broken when Arab forces attacked a convoy and Zionists attacked two Palestinian police officers driving children to school. At midnight, Zionist attackers penetrated the outskirts of the village of Bayt'Affa [pop.700] north-east of Gaza. An attempt was made to mine some outlying houses but the attackers were detected by village guards. A two hour fight ensued before the raiders withdrew to the nearby settlement of Negba. An American merchant ship was refused leave to enter Tel Aviv harbour and ordered to Haifa, in conformity with US government instructions to its merchant marine, in order that it could be searched by the Mandate authorities. It was reported that Czech arms were being supplied to Arab guerrilla fighters; Egypt had supplied several thousand rifles to the exiled Mufti of Jerusalem, according to Egyptian sources. The Scotsman's Special Correspondent gave an outline of the situation facing King Abdullah of Transjordan, as a delegation from that country arrived in Britain to try and revise the two year old Treaty of Friendship. The Treaty stated that only British troops could be stationed on Transjordan soil, and no other. However the situation had changed

drastically from two years ago. With partition looming and conflict well established, there could soon be a need for states such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia - with no contiguous borders with Palestine - to base troops in Transjordan. Then there was the question of the future of the 10 000 strong Transjordan Frontier Force commonly known as the Arab Legion. With some 300 000 unruly Bedouin tribespeople within the borders of Transjordan, this British trained and financed police force, together with its British advisers, had proven to be successful in providing state security - not to mention stability in this important area of the Middle East. Officially part of the British Imperial Forces, the Arab Legion was financed to the tune of over one million pounds by Britain. At least two of its brigades were used for guard duty within Palestine.

January 28, 1948

A third contingent of 400 ALA volunteers arrived in Palestine. By this date, 25 Jewish families had moved into Palestinian homes in the looted village of Shaykh Badr, on the outskirts of Jerusalem (now the site of Israel's parliament, the Knesset). This followed pressure brought to bear on the Jewish families by housing committees formed by the Haganah and the Jewish Agency. If they resisted being moved, then ". . . . sanctions were imposed on them like cutting off support given them by the Social Department of the Community Committee, and when that did not work they were forcibly loaded onto trucks and transferred to Shaykh Badr."24

January 29, 1948

A Zionist force of five armoured cars was beaten off, with no reported casualties, when it attacked the village of Burayr [pop. 2 740] to the north-east of Gaza. Zionist terrorists shot and killed two British policemen in Ben Yehuda Street, in the Jewish section of Jerusalem. Police thwarted Arab raids on two trains. However a third was more successful with 40 tons of freight and some arms being captured. The UN Palestine Commission unanimously agreed to the formation of a Jewish militia in Palestine. It was ready to consider a similar arrangement for the Arabs. Britain told the Commission that she could not allow the formation of such a militia prior to the termination of the Mandate. The US Consulate-General warned US citizens that the US government "strongly disapproves" of any interference or participation by them in foreign armed forces. Citizens fighting in the armed services of Jews or Arabs would lose their passports and their right to protection. Naturalised citizens would lose their American citizenship.

January 30, 1948

Shooting took place around the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Sniping and sporadic machine gun fire brought traffic to a halt until British armoured cars moved in.The Haganah blew up a house in the Katamon quarter of the city. British sappers eventually rescued the Palestinian occupants. Yazur village, outside Jaffa, was besieged by Zionist forces. One house was destroyed, with its owner being killed. Arab snipers claimed three Jewish victims, including a woman, in the Manshieh quarter of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa boundary.

January 31, 1948

The Jewish owned Palestine Post building was devastated by a bomb, with 20 people injured. It was reported that Arab underground forces in the Jerusalem area claimed responsibility while Jewish Agency sources blamed the British. The UK government formally complained to Bulgaria over its assistance in unauthorised Jewish immigration which contravened the laws of Palestine. The Royal Navy intercepted a schooner carrying 280 unauthorised Central European Jews destined for Palestine. It was diverted to Cyprus. Britain amplified its refusal to countenance any militia in Palestine until the Mandate came to an end. It was stated that the Palestine Commission, itself, would not be welcome until two weeks before the Mandate was terminated. Britain would not be responsible for its safety should it arrive earlier. The administration would not be handed over piecemeal, but in its entirety at the end of the Mandate. The Arab Legion would be withdrawn and no British personnel would be loaned to the Commission. It was at the end of the month that Ben Gurion issued orders to the newly appointed Haganah commander in western Jerusalem. In this area some Arab families had already fled the conflict, paricularly from mixed Arab- Jewish neighbourhoods. The commander was ordered to "settle Jews in every house in abandoned, half-Arab neighbourhoods, such as Romema."25

Notes 1 Theodore Herzl, Diaries III, p.77 2 Benny Morris, Falsifying the Record, (Journal of Palestine Studies, Spring 1995) p.51 3 ibid p.53 4 Norman Finkelstein, Myths, Old and New, (JoPS, Autumn 1991) p.78 5 Michael Palumbo, The Palestinian Catastrophe, p.4 6 ibid p.34 7 Harry Sacher, Israel, the establishment of a state, p.217 8 Said Aburish, Children of Bethany, p.95 9 ibid p.105 10 Palumbo, p.36 11 ibid p.40 12 Ilan Pappe, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1947-1951, p.50 13 Nathan Krystall, The De-Arabisation of West Jerusalem 1947-50 (JoPS, Winter 1998) p.7 14 Benny Morris, The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem. 1947-1949, p.32 15 Pappe, p.82 16 Morris, p.30 17 Krystall, p.7 18 Walid Khalidi, Before their Diaspora, p.316 19 Walid Khalidi, All that Remains, p.256 20 Morris, p.47 21 The Times 21/1/48 22 The Times 23/1/48 23 Henry Cattan, Palestine, the Arabs and Israel, p.219 24 Krystall, p.9 25 Morris, p.190

March 15, 1948

The Haganah demolished 14 houses and damaged 10 others in the villages of al-Ghubayya and al-Fawaqa, SE of Haifa. There were no casualties: the villagers had fled following attacks a few days earlier. The village of Wadi al-Hawarith, NW of Tulkarm was "emptied". A British constable was killed and two soldiers wounded whilst investigating a suspicious light a Jewish house in Haifa, which was booby-trapped and blew up.

March 16, 1948

Palestinian irregulars blocked the road to "Zionist colonies" in the Negev at the village of Bureir (Gaza district).

March 17, 1948

Haganah forces attacked an Arab convoy near the settlement of Kiryat Motzkin on the Acre-Haifa road. The town's commander of its Arab forces, Mohammed bin Hammad al Huneiti, was killed. The assault on one of the lorries precipitated a massive explosion which killed ten Arabs and injured seven. Thirty Zionists and two passing British soldiers were killed. The last villagers from Jammasin, on the Sharon Plain, abandoned their village out of "general fear." Arab forces attacked in the morning the colony of Ein Keshet near Nazareth.Two Jews were killed; the attackers suffered some casualties. The mosque at Qastel village,eight miles W of Jerusalem, was blown up by the Haganah. Severalother buildings were demolished.

Mahmoud Darwish

The faces of truth

Truth is a metaphorical female
When fire and water mix
In its form

Truth is relativity
When blood
mixes with blood
In its night

Truth is plain as day
when the victim walks
with amputated legs
slowly

And truth is a character
In the poem
It is not what it is
Or its opposite
It is what falls in drops from its shadow

A River Dies of Thirst (Diaries) – (transl. from the Arabic by Catherine Cobham) Saqi Books, London, 2009


Part I: Discovering and Measuring the Land

  • From the Bronze Age (IIIrd millenium BC) to the modern era, Palestine underwent a series of cycles of expansion, stagnation, decline and regeneration brought to light by Coote and Whitelam (1987, 31). The last episode of "rebirth" was not that of "the desert made to bloom" of the Zionist dream come true with the unilateral proclamation of the creation of the State of Israel on 15th May 1948, but a slow process of urban and rural change and development in Ottoman Palestine in the aftermath of the Crimean War (1855-1856) which culminated on the eve of the First World War (1914-1918).


    The XIXth century Rediscovery of Palestine

    Bonaparte’s"Expédition d’Egypte" and Jacotin’s Map

    When Napoleon Bonaparte, having conquered Egypt in July 1798 (Dauphin, 2009), invaded Palestine on 22nd February 1799, it was but a neglected province of a declining Ottoman Empire, and thus, for Westerners, a terra incognita. His ill-fated pre-Colonial fantasy of Oriental glory reached out to India in which were already involved his arch-enemies, the British, through the East India Company. While the French army was marking time in front of the walls of Acre, on 17th April 1799, Bonaparte issued a proclamation in which he invited ‘all the Jews of Asia and Africa to gather under his flag in order to re-establish the ancient Jerusalem’, which was reported by the main French newspaper during the French Revolution, Le Moniteur Universel, on 3 Prairial, Year VII of the French republican calendar, equivalent to 22nd May 1799. It added that he had already given arms to a great number, and that their battalions threatened Aleppo. Propaganda to enlist the support of one of the suppressed minorities of Europe ? In 1806 he was to abolish in countries which he had conquered laws restricting Jews to ghettos, and in 1807, he made Judaism, along with Roman Catholicism and Lutheran and Calvinist Protestantism, official religions of France. Or, was this proclamation destined to bring over to the French side Haim Farhi, the Jewish advisor to the ruler of Acre, Ahmad al-Jazzar, who was the actual commander of the defence of Acre in the field ? Be as it may, this proclamation was seized upon by the Zionists. In 1940, the official periodical of the Zionist Organisation, The New Judaea, published the claim by the Czech lawyer and historian Franz Kobler (1882-1965) of the discovery of a detailed version of Bonaparte’s proclamation, which went much further than a call to liberate Jerusalem. The Kobler version suggests the invitation to the "Rightful heirs of Palestine" to create a Jewish state, and establish "your political existence as a nation among the nations" (Kobler 1976). The document has since been debunked as a forgery (Schwarzfuchs, 1984).

    Napoleon’s reckless adventure in Palestine, which completely collapsed with the ignominious retreat of the French from Acre and their aborted attempt to pull out of Palestine by sea from the Bay of Tanturah on 21st May 1799 (Derogy and Carmel 1992), had, however, the merit of "discovering" the country for the first time and mapping large sections of its territory. The 47 sheets at the scale of 1: 1 000 000 of the Map which bears the name of Jacotin (1815), the officer coordinating the team of geographers and civil engineers whom Bonaparte, the "civilising hero", had recruited from the French scientific élite, cover the Nile Valley from Aswan to the Delta, the Delta and the coast of Sinai, as well as six regions of Palestine : al-‘Arish, Gaza, Jerusalem-Jaffa, Caesarea, Acre-Nazareth-The River Jordan, and Tyre-Sidon. These last six sheets constitute the first modern map of Palestine measured by triangulation. They bear numerous names in French and Arabic of mountains, rivers, roads, towns and villages, ruins and historical sites.


Back to Top

Travellers on the roads of Palestine

  • The Western ‘civilised’ world having discovered the East, the Orient became a compulsory travel destination for educated men and women of means throughout the XIXth century. Between 1800 and 1878, over 2 000 travellers published at least 5 000 books and articles on Palestine. Most of those for whom travelling to the Holy Land fulfilled a spiritual quest, limited their wanderings to Jerusalem and its immediate surroundings, the Judean Hills and the Acre Plaine. They described the lack of comfort during their peregrinations rather than the ‘piles of ruins under the palm trees’ (Loti, 1895, 4), or the villages punctuating their progress. In reconstructing the landscapes of XIXth century Palestine, the value of this travel literature is minimal, to the extent that C. Ritter (1848), who produced a remarkable geographical study of Palestine and Sinai solely on the basis of travel narratives, remarked : ‘In order to obtain even single nuggets of gold, it has often been necessary to pull to pieces great heaps of rubbish’ (Gage, 1866, II, 60). After Bonaparte’s Egyptian Expedition, the rediscovery of Palestine consisted of two stages: individual exploration (1799-1864), followed by exploration conducted by scientific teams from 1865 to the First World War.


Back to Top

Palestine explored: the Pioneers

  • The "nuggets of gold" of the period of individual exploration are the fruits of individual research of the German U.J. Seetzen (1855-1859) and the Swiss J.L. Burckardt (1822). They were the foundations of the scientific exploration of Palestine (Ben-Arieh, 1983, 31-43). Between May 1805 and May 1807, Seetzen visited the Hauran, the Lebanon, Western Palestine, Transjordan and Sinai, collecting mineral and vegetal samples, drawing in detail the outlines of creeks and wadis, recording hundreds of Greek inscriptions. Between 1810 and 1817, Burckhardt, whose real goal was to penetrate into the heart of Africa (which he did not reach, for he died of dysentery in Cairo in 1817), explored the Hauran, Jaulan, Galilee, the eastern bank of the River Jordan, and the Wadi Arabah Valley, and located Petra. Neither Seetzen, nor Burckhardt were particularly interested in the Christian Holy Places – Burckhardt did not even visit Jerusalem. Deliberately avoiding the well-known and safe roads, both penetrated into the heretofore unexplored regions of Palestine.

    Following in the wake of these pioneers, the theologian, linguist and professor of Biblical Literature at the New York Union Theological Seminary, E. Robinson, deserves the title "Father of Research on the Holy Land". Accompanied by his disciple and friend E. Smith, Robinson left Cairo on horseback on 12th March 1838, aiming for Sinai. On their way, Robinson and Smith discovered the Byzantine dead cities of the Negev desert, exploring more particularly Haluza, ancient Elusa. From Beersheva, they travelled to Hebron and Jerusalem. Then, after criss-crossing Judaea, they visited Nazareth and Tiberias, and finally reached Beirut. In the course of two-and-a-half months in Palestine, they took compass readings of over 1 000 sites and recorded names of villages and of ruins by questioning the local population. A general map of Palestine at the scale of 1: 800 000 in two sheets, and two maps at the scale of 1: 100 000 of Jerusalem and of the supposed site of Mount Sinai, illustrate their Biblical Researches (Robinson, 1841). These maps were drawn by the German cartographer H. Kiepert on the basis of thousands of triangulation points and of details of roads, villages and ancient sites provided by Robinson and Smith. In the course of a second trip in 1856, they extended their research to encompass Galilee, Samaria, Mount Lebanon and Damascus (Robinson, 1856). As theologians and Biblical scholars, Robinson and Smith applied themselves to the task of elaborating a new discipline, "sacred historical geography".


Back to Top

Palestine dissected: Guérin and the Survey of Western Palestine (1872-1877)

  • The real foundations of the geographical study of Palestine were established by a solitary French explorer, V. Guérin, and a British team – the Royal Engineers of the Survey of Western Palestine – in the second third of the XIXth century. Guérin visited Palestine for the first time in 1852 at the time of Robinson’s second visit. His last visit in 1875 coincided with the intensive surveys of the Palestine Exploration Fund. He came five times to Palestine, followed the main roads in 1852, but covered the entire country in 1854. His trips in 1863, 1870 and 1875 were undertaken at the request of the Turkish Ministry of Public Works. Guérin’s seven volumes of notes (1868-1874, 188) compete in extent with the three volumes of the Memoirs of the Survey of Western Palestine (Conder and Kitchener, 1881-1883) – an astonishing feat for a single individual. In fact, Guérin’s work and the Memoirs of the Survey of Western Palestine complement each other.

    Funded by British philanthropists, the first scientific cartographic survey of Jerusalem, which for the first time made use of the budding "science" of photography, was conducted in 1864-1865 by a team of Royal Engineers headed by C. Wilson. This survey aimed at exploring and recording in detail the water supply system of the Holy City, which periodically suffered from lack of water (Howe 1997, 29-35). Published by the British War Office (Wilson, 1866), it demonstrated that scientific team work could achieve much more than individual efforts. It also opened the way for the founding in London on 12th May 1865 of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) under the patronage of Queen Victoria. In the course of the inaugual meeting of the PEF on 22nd June 1865, the Archbishop of York, William Thomson, stated: "We are about to apply the rules of Science… to an investigation into the facts concerning the Holy Land" (PEF Report of Proceedings 1865, 3). The establishment of the PEF and its aim to conduct scientific work should be viewed against the background of controversies which Darwin’s evolutionist theories had roused in the Victorian Anglican Church (Lipman, 1988, 45-46). The scientific work was to consist of "investigating the archaeology, geography, geology and natural history of the Holy Land".

    Following four preliminary expeditions in Northern Palestine in 1865-1866, in Jerusalem in 1867-1870, Sinai , and Negev, the Palestine Exploration Fund finally turned to its main goal: the general survey and mapping of Western Palestine. This tas kwas entrusted to Stewart who, struck by malaria, was compelled to return to the United Kingdom and was replaced at first by C. Tyrwhitt-Drake, and ultimately by C. Conder. From 1875, directing the team was shared by Conder with the future Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, then only a young officer in the Royal Engineers corps. The survey of Palestine, from Tyre and Banyas in the north to Gaza and Beersheva in the south, were completed in September 1877 (Gibson, 1997).

    In 1850-1851, the Frenchman F. de Saulcy with a team comprising a photographer, a mapper, an architect and a botanist, produced an archaeological map of the Dead Sea (Caubet, 1982, 184-185). This map, however, was of a single region of Palestinian territory. Conder could therefore rightly flatter himself to have been with his team "the first to gather that complete account of the country, of its ancient remains, and of its present inhabitants" (Conder, 1891, 1). The 26 cartographic sheets at the scale of one inch to a mile, which cover the whole of Palestine from Dan to Beersheva, were produced on the basis of precise theodolite readings and by triangulation, according to the method followed by the Ordnance Survey of Great-Britain (Conder, 1891, 59-60; Hodson, 1997).

  • These 26 sheets illustrate the three volumes of Memoirs. To each sheet corresponds a chapter of text which describes systematically and in detail the landscape, topography, agriculture, hydrography, the roads, towns and villages listed alphabetically and according to Ottoman administrative districts, the population, religions, historical sites and archaeological ruins. References as full as possible are also provided to the Jewish, Samaritan, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Crusader historical sources.

    From its onset, the Survey of Western Palestine represented half of a double project, the other half - the survey of Transjordan following identical methods - was undertaken from 1872 in collaboration with the PEF by its trans-Atlantic sister, the American Palestine Exploration Society, which had been founded in 1870 in New York. In the early 1870s, in contrast to "densely settled and relatively civilised Western Palestine" (Cobbing, 2005, 11), the land east of the River Jordan was largely untracked and difficult to explore: "At this time, the Turkish administration was struggling to maintain a semblance of control over the fiercely independent and often warring Bedouin tribes that loosely populated the territory. Supplies and settlements were few and far between, and the terrain was, for the most part, rugged and apparently desolate" (Cobbing, 2005, 11). Lack of experience and problems of funding drove the American Society to abandon in August 1877 its "reconnaissance" work. The discrepancies between the American Map (described as "inexact" by Besant, the Secretary of the English PEF) and the SWP maps led the PEF to conduct its own survey in Ammon and Moab in 1881, directed by C. Conder, but the "Eastern Survey" was also abandoned owing to prolonged waiting for a firman from the Ottoman administration. The maps of Transjordan and of the Jaulân were eventually drawn by the German railway engineer G. Schumacher (1886; 1888; 1889) for the Deutsche Verein zur Erforschung Palästinas founded in 1877, the Palestine Exploration Fund and the Turkish Railways. His maps of the same format and at the same scale as those of the Survey of Western Palestine are their complement. His archaeological explorations cross-check the discoveries of L. Oliphant (1880; 1885 ; 1886; 1887), an erudite, versatile and excentric Victorian Scot, author and journalist, part diplomat and/or secret agent in Her Majesty’s Service, former Member of Parliament and religious mystic, intent on settling the Land of Gilead with survivors of the anti-Jewish pogroms in Rumania and Russia, and the first non-Jewish Zionist to buy a house in Haifa and thus put into practice his belief (Amit 2007, 205-206).

    In 1883, the geographer E. Hull and Kitchener led an expedition in the Wadi ‘Arabah Valley with the aim of mapping the region between Mount Sinai and the Wadi ‘Arabah, edged on the west by the plateau of Tih and by the mounts of Edom (Hull, 1885; 1886; 1910).

    In the Negev, the Survey of Western Palestine had stopped at an imaginary line between Gaza and Beersheva and at the Egyptian border from Rafah to the Gulf of ‘Aqaba. The mapping of the Negev proper was undertaken only in 1913 by S.F. Newcombe and F.C.S. Greig. Attached to the team of topographers, the archaeologists C.L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence - soon to become Lawrence of Arabia -, examined the Byzantine caravan cities of which they drew the first plans (Woolley and Lawrence, 1914-1915). The map of the Negev was classified until the victory of the Allies over the Ottoman Empire. If glaring proof were needed of the intertwining of surveying for mapping, recording the lay of the Land, its physical features and the names of its localities, with empire-building, it is provided by the classified map of the Negev prior to General Allenby’s progress from Egypt to Gaza, and onto Jerusalem which he entered on 9th December 1917. The military dimension of the Survey of Western Palestine was flagrant: the War Office was the first recipient of the SWP maps. In the same vein, collecting Celtic place-names and translating them into English by a cartographer and an orthographer working in 1833 in a small village of County Donegal on the six-inch-to-the-mile map of Ireland for the Ordnance Survey (whose logo included the War Department’s broad arrow heraldic mark) in Brian Friel’s 1980 play Translations, signified the consolidation of the Colonial hold over land and people, and its counterpart, the long-term destruction of Irish culture and language.


Back to Top

Further Reading

Amit, Th. 2007. "Laurence Oliphant : Financial Sources for his Activities in Palestine in the 1880s", Palestine Exploration Quarterly Vol. 139, No. 3 (November 2007), 205-212.
Ben-Arieh, Y. 1983. The Rediscovery of the Holy Land in the Nineteenth Century, The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University and Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem.
Burckhardt, J.L. 1822. Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, London.
Caubet, A. 1982. "La Palestine de Saulcy", in Félix de Saulcy et la Terre Sainte, Musée d’Art et d’Essai. Palais de Tokyo, avril-septembre 1982. Notes et Documents des Musées de France 5. Ministère de la Culture. Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 184-187.
Cobbing, F. J. 2005. "The American Palestine Exploration Society and the Survey of Eastern Palestine", Palestine Exploration Quarterly Vol. 137, No. 1, April 2005, 9-21.
Conder, C.R. 1891. Palestine, George Philip and Son, London- Liverpool, 1892 (2nd ed.).
Conder, C.R. and Kitchener, H.H. 1881-1883. Memoirs of the Survey of Western Palestine. I. Galilee (1881); II. Samaria (1882); III. Judaea (1883), London.
Coote, R.B. and Whitelam, K.W. 1987. The Emergence of Early Israel in Historical Perspective, The Almond Press, Sheffield.
Dauphin, C. 2009. "Bonaparte in Egypt: The Sword and the Intellect", Minerva, Vol. 20, No. 2, March/April 2009, 16-21.
Derogy, J. and Carmel, H. 1992. Bonaparte en Terre Sainte, Librairie Arthème  Fayard, Paris.
Friel, B. 1980. Translations, Faber and Faber, London.
Gage, W.L. 1866 ed. The Comparative Geography of Palestine and the Sinaitic Peninsula by C. Ritter, Edinburgh.
Gibson, S. 1997. "Officers and Gentlemen", Eretz No. 52 (May-June 1997), 19-25.  
Guérin, V. 1867-1874. Description de la Palestine. Judée. I-III (1868), Samarie. I- II (1874),Galilée. I-II (1880), Paris.
Hodson, Y. 1997. "Mapping It Out", Eretz No. 52 (May-June 1997), 43-50.
Howe, K.S. 1997. "Revealing the Holy Land. Nineteenth Century Photographs of Palestine", in Revealing the Holy Land. The Photographic Exploration of Palestine, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1997, 16-46.
Hull, E. 1885. Mount Seir, Sinai and Western Palestine, London.
Hull, E. 1886. The Geology of Palestine and Arabia Petraea, London.
Hull, E. 1910. Reminiscences of a Strenuous Life, London.
Jacotin, M. 1815. Carte Topographique de l'Egypte et de plusieurs parties  des pays limitrophes levée pendant l'expédition de l'Armée Française, Paris.
Kobler, F. 1976. Napoleon and the Jews, Schocken Press, New York.
Lipman, V.D. 1988. "The Origins of the Palestine Exploration Fund", Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1988), 48-54.
Loti, P. 1895. Jérusalem, Calmann Lévy, Paris.
Oliphant, L.1880. The Land of Gilead, London.
Oliphant, L. 1885. "Explorations North-East of Lake Tiberias and in Jaulan", Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Studies (1886), 82-97.
Oliphant, L. 1886. "New Discoveries", Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Studies (1885), 73-81.
Oliphant, L. 1887.   Haifa or Life in Modern Palestine, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh-London.
Robinson, E. 1841. Biblical Researches in Palestine, London.
Robinson, E. 1856. Later Biblical Researches in Palestine, London.
Schumacher, G. 1886. Across the Jordan, Richard Bentley and Son, London.
Schumacher, G. 1888. The Jaulân, Richard Bentley and Son, London.
Schumacher, G. 1889. Northern Ajlun, Richard Bentley and Son, London.
Schwarzfuchs, S. 1984. Napoleon, the Jews and the Sanhedrin, Oxford University Press USA, 1964.
Seetzen, U.J. 1854-1859. Reisen durch Syrien, Palastina, Phonicien, Berlin.
Wilson, C.W. 1866. The Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem, Vols I-III, Southampton.
Woolley, C.L. and Lawrence, T.E. 1914-1915. The Wilderness of Zin. PEF Annual, Third Volume; repr. 1903, Palestine Exploration Fund, London.
slide up button